Saturday, August 26, 2006

Snakes On An Elevator

Okay, so I'm making a cheap reference to a crap-ass summer movie, but it's not like I killed anybody. At least, not yet.

I just wanted to write about a bizarre and ultimately funny inicident that happened as I was leaving work yesterday.

There's a woman at my office--well, she was at my office, but Friday was her last day.

We'll call her Jill--thought she doesn't know jack! (Sorry, couldn't resist that one.) Anyhow, for the whole time we worked together Jill would never give me the time of day.

She sat two desks away from me for close to a year, but every time I walked by her, she'd get this zombie glaze over her eyes and look through me like I was disembodied spirit. At first I would nod to her, something I do with everybody in the office, as I think it's polite.

But after being blown off a few times too many, I shifted to an attitude along the lines of "kiss my royal Irish patootie, bee-yatch!" and ignored the living hell of her.

Code of Silence

It felt stupid, though, and I didn't understand what this woman's problem was. Did I insult her in some way? We had not been formally introduced, which sometimes management does with new hires, but so what?

You see someone walking by, you say hello. That doesn't mean you're moving in with them, or coming over for Sunday dinner, or asking for an organ donation. It's just good freaking manners.

Things got worse when the company moved another woman into the cube right next to me. We'll call Ass--, no, no, we won't call her that. We'll call her Lizzy. Yeah, Lizzy, that should keep me out of trouble.

Anyway, Lizzy is piece of work, one of these attention-starved individuals who laugh too loud, talk too much, and labor under the misguided impression that they're free spirits when they're just flaming buttheads.

She'll read IM's all day and laughs--I mean laughs--so loudly I feel like I'm on a sitcom. I wonder sometimes if she's IM'ing Henry Youngman from beyound the grave, giving all the laughing she does, but even so, it's distracting as hell and pretty goddamn rude.

Lizzie wears headphones in the office and listens to music, something I've never seen in any place I've worked at; it just isn't done. And even that I could ignore, but she doesn't just listen to the music, she sways in her seat, closes her eyes and bobs her head like she's having an orgasm. Of course, Lizzie just can't enjoy her music; she has to share it with the world. I'm hoping she keeps her orgasms private.

Now, I'm a cranky old bastard, I'll admit that. I don't like my current situation and I'm doing my best to fix that. I'll never be named employee of the month, but even I know there is a code of behavoir you must adhere to in an office just so people can function.

What-you think I want to be sitting next to you, day after day, listening to your inane guffawing? Brace yourself for a shock, honey, but,, I'm not.

Worse yet, we seem to have the exact same schedule, so when the office is virtually empty at night, I can count on this loser being in the neighboring cube making enough noise to drown out a barnyard.

One time she printed something out on the computer, and then skipped--skipped like a goddamn child--over to the printer, while I was struggling with my last story of the day. What the hell, girl? Are we going to play hide and seek next? Great, you get lost and I'm go looking for you...sooner or later.

I finally had to tell to her to keep it down it got so ridiculous, something that isn't easy for me as I usually fume in silence.

Lizzy tried to make peace, or so I thought, one afternoon when she offered to move to another cube. Like a schmuck, I said no, that we could work this thing out, and I almost thought we could be something like friends.

Mute Button

Until last week, when some of the guys in the office were joking around. They are truly a funny bunch and when they kid each other, it lightens things up and makes the day a little easier. I forget what they were doing this time, but I leaned over to another co-worked and commented on how crazy these guys were.

"It's only a problem when it's a girl," Ass-, I mean, Lizzy, chimes in.

How's that? Those guys are funny, ass clown, while you, on the other hand, are a flaming dimwit. How dare you turn this into some kind of feminist crusade when the fact is you're ill-mannered bunghole who belongs in a stall with the other jackasses. And who the hell was talking to you, anyway?

But I didn't say anything, falling back into my fuming mode. I just stopped talking to her and cut her dead whenever I see in the hallway. Yes, I know, very mature.

Okay, so now I've got Jill and Lizzy, Scylla and Charybdis, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, whatever you want to call them, on either side of me, making my working life rather sucky indeed. I'm a fairly reasonable guy, but somehow I've got a growing enemies list.

Which brings us to Friday, when I get an-email saying that it was Jill's last day.

Yippee! I shout inwardly, doing the math and realizing the bunghole count has been reduced by half. Now we all we need is for Lizzy to skip off the edge of the Grand Canyon and life will be beautiful once again.

Late in the day one of my co-workers--one that I'm actually talking to--hands me a blue envelope. I see it's a farewell card for Silent Jill. Now I'm supposed to sign this thing, commit this act of Hallmark perjury just to look like a good sport? Hell, no.

I toyed with the idea of writing something nasty in the card, but I didn't. She's going, that's a good thing, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. No need to spoil the lift-off.

So I tried to pass the thing on and everybody's signed it. I spoke my first words in weeks to Lizzy--you sign this?--and walked around the office trying to dump Jill's card like it was radioactive waste.

I don't even talk to this bimbo, I whined to myself as I wandered from desk to desk.

Finally I give the damn thing to my boss and try to laugh it off. The day's almost over. I've got a blind date that I'm not too charged up about--(and rightfully so, as it turns out) and I'll be leaving the office.

All Aboard

I snub Jill for one last time and then I hit the elevator bank. I see someone coming out of the office behind's Jill. She's clutching her plant, that goddamn card, and bag of her office possessions.

It's just her and me getting on the elevator. No crowd of co-workers boarding with us for protection, and no one from any of the building's other 14 floors gets on. It's a straight descent that feels like it'll last forever.

This is like some kind of scientific experiment they do with rats and I'm wondering if there weren't a bunch of guys in lab coats watching us on the security camera.

I look to the ceiling and ask, why God, why? Why do we have to be leaving at the exact time? The whole time I worked with this woman, I never ran into her on the elevator, not once. I thought she scaled the side of the builing like Spiderman or took the freight elevator up to the office with the maintenance crew.

Apparently not. So here we are, trapped in this metal box, praying for those doors to open. I'm stuck, I don't know what to, so I...talked.

"So you're leaving us?" I say in a burst of incredible wit.

"Why, yes," she responds with equal vigor.

And for that brief time, we almost had a conversation. When we got downstairs, I wished her well, and went my merry way. I wondered why we had not spoke before, why she found me so repulsive that she could only talk to me moments before we would part for all time.

It felt so strange conversing with this woman, but I didn't ask for the silent treatment. It was her idea. I suspect she realized I had no power in the office, that I couldn't advance her career, and I was thus not worth knowing.

It doesn't matter any more, but I am proud of how I handled the business in the elevator. I can speak in a civil manner with someone for a few minutes and not burst into flames. Now I'm at a point where I thank God for the elevator experience because it taught me to think on my feet and avoid wallowing in anger.

I wonder if this is a sign I should try and make friends with Lizzy. Maybe that could be a positive experience as well, and I wouldn't have to feel my blood pressure go up every time I lay eyes on her.

Maybe, but I'm still kind of partial to that Grand Canyon leap...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"Children Do Not Realize"

My sister came over to the house the other day and found an Easter card I had given to my parents in 1994.

It's a big ivory number with the words "For Mother and Dad With Love" above an Easter basket. I always liked the larger size holiday cards for my parents.

"Children do not realize," it begins, "how deep is parent love, how wise..."

Reading that card today, I see there's a lot I didn't realize, or maybe things I just didn't want to believe.

I didn't want to believe my mother would die some day, or that my father would be so old and frail that he could barely stand up.

I didn't realize or I didn't believe, either way, that's what's happening now with or without my persmission.

My sister was cleaning up the house to make it more senior-friendly for my dad--getting rid of boxes, cleaning out the hallway to my father's bedroom.

My father's home from his second hospital stay in less than a month, but God only knows how long he'll be here. He came home Tuesday, which would have been my mother's birthday, only she's been gone for four years now.

I heard a noise coming from my father's room now and I had to run like hell to see if had fallen again.

He just dropped his cane this time, but next time it could be much worse. I went through this with my mother, any loud noise, or the sound of your name, and you're running down the hall praying that something terrible hasn't happened.

I only sleep a few hours a night, as I get up whenever he does and I can't leave the house unless I have someone here to watch him. Usually that means hiring someone.

I'm surprised he's still alive, frankly, after the way he looked on Tuesday. He couldn't stand without a walker, his mouth was hanging half-opened and he could barely respond when I spoke to him.

I had to help Mary and George, his healthcare aides, get out the door for a trip to the doctor. I'm amazed they let him leave the VA, seeing how bad he looked.

He was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the car to arrive and he looked so bad, so out of it, I was almost in tears. I kissed him on the head and asked him how he was doing. I think I got a nod in return.

Medal of Honor

There were so many bad times with my father, times when I hated him and wished he was dead. He could be so mean-spirited and violent, it was almost like he had children solely for the purpose of fighting with them.

None of that seems to matter now and realizing that he could very soon be dead frightens me. And there were good times, too.

He once called me while I was living in Pennsylvania, about 1988, I guess, to tell me he had finally gotten his medals he had won during World War II. There was some screw up where he didn't get them or lost them, whatever the case, he had them and said he would give them to me.

"You want me to hold on to them?" I asked, missing the point entirely.

"I'll leave them for you in my will," he responded.

I barely got out a choked "thank you," hung up and started crying my eyes out. I called my mother, who was working at the old Lincoln Savings Bank in Brooklyn to tell her what was going on, but I was weeping so much she didn't understand me.

Finally, I got the story out and she told me I was feeling guilty, given our rather tortured relationship over the years.

"The world wasn't meant for people like us," she said.

It looks like I'll be inheriting those medals pretty soon now. I don't deserve them, and I could put that honor off forever, but once I get them, I'll take good care of them.

I found a picture of me and my father, which I suspect was taken on Easter Sunday sometime back in the 20th Century. He's squatting down with his arm around me and I'm wearing my fancy gray coat with the black collar.

My God, he looks so young and in control in that photo. I want to ask where did the time go, but what I really mean is can I have it back? Can I take those years away, be a child again, and have Mommy and Daddy looking out for me?

Well, we already know the answer to these questions.

The Goodbye Girl

My niece, Kristin, called today to say goodbye. She's heading off for Oneonta, NY to start her freshman year of college.

I still can't believe it, the little girl I bounced on my knee just... last week, it seems... is now a college student. What's the word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah...oy!

That's one thing about change; you lose a lot and you gain. If I could turn the years back, I wouldn't have Kristin, or my other niece, Victoria, and I don't even want to think about that.

She had been planning to come over and say goodbye in person, but her father, alias my brother, couldn't make it because he was going out to his new house in Jersey where he will live with his new wife. And I will say no more on that subject.

It's a shame she won't be able to say goodbye to her grandfather. I just hope he's around the next time she comes to visit.

I told Kristin that I loved her, that I was proud of her, and that I knew she would do great things in college. I told her to enjoy life and to try new things. I didn't go away to college and I think I lost something, remained a child too long.

I was tempted to tell Kristin to avoid winding up like me, an unmarried, nearly-50-year-old man living in his parents' house. But I want to keep things cordial. I just want her to see how fast the time goes, how quickly we become old and that regrets are the most painful thing of all.

It seems like my family's breaking apart. My father is here, but clearly it won't be for long. Kristin is heading off to college, but, as much as that hurts, I know it's going to be great for her. She has to have her own life and I want it to be a happy one.

After wishing her the best, I met up with my neighbor's brother, who expresed an interest in buying my father's old Toyota.

Key Exchange

It's been sitting in our garage for years and we want to get rid of the damn thing. The garage is crumbling and we've got to clear it out before we can do the repairs.

My father was driving long after he should have been. He used to go visit my mother at the nursing home every day and after she died, he'd go to the cemetery, both of which are located in Staten Island. Every day I'd call him from work at 4 pm, praying to God he hadn't gotten into an accident.

He'd lose his keys, or forget where parked the car, or lock the keys in the car. It was one fiasaco after another. And always we had to worry about him getting into a wreck.

Finally his doctor told him no more driving and we put the Toyota in the garage for keeps. Both my dad and his car are falling apart now, but I'm not worried about the Toyota. I just want it gone.

But not so fast. First we had to find the title, which, of course, he had lost. We went through months of calls and letters until we finally got the title and today I was ready to sell thing to John's brother.

Only I didn't have the key.

I thought I did. But there was some screw-up where the key that opens the door does not start the ignition. We had numerous copies made as my father kept losing them, but none of them seemed to work. John's brother spoke with his father while I went in and out of the house trying yet another set of keys.

John is Chinese and while I don't speak the language, I'm sure they were saying something along the lines of "get a load of this bonehead" as I scurried back and forth. Well, I'm going to find the keys or call Toyota, or drop a match down the gas tank if I have to. I want this bastard gone.

So we're selling off parts of my father's life. Pretty soon it'll be the house and the thought of giving our family's place is so upsetting. But we really have no use for it, and if nice people move in here, it'll be a good deal.

It'll also be the end of my excuses. I'll have to find another place to live. Maybe make good on all my talk about moving to California...or Washington...or New Zealand...

That Easter card from '94 ends with a line about "the dearest parents anywhere!" I see that I scrawled "how true" beneath it in my awful penmanship. The handwriting is from hunger, but nothing could change those feelings of mine.

Now I've got to find that damn key...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Return Visit

If I can get through a day like Friday, I think I can pretty much survive anything.

My father had to go back to the hospital on Friday, little more than a week after he had been released from a seven-day stay at the VA Hospital.

I try not to think about things like bad omens, hexes, evil eyes, and the like, but any day where you hear Abba's 70's musical nightmare "Dancing Queen" twice is less than five hours is bound to suck in major ways. And Friday was such a day.

The day started out very badly, when I heard my father fall down in the bathroom at about 6 AM. I was half-asleep but I knew the sound and I ran in there and found him curled up on the floor twitching and shaking as if he were being eletrocuted.

It was horrible seeing him like that, confused, frightened and helpless. I got him to a chair, saying "Dad, Dad," over and over, but he just stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language. Finally he started to respond and I got him back to bed.

Now I should have taken him to the hospital right then and there, but he kept on insisting he was all right. So I let him have his way, like so many times before.

Up until then, I had been feeling pretty confident about caring for my father. I had given him his first shave earlier in the week. It was something I had been dreading, but given his unsteady grip, there was no other way.

As he sat on the bath chair I ran a disposable razor down the length of his face. I wished I could shave away the years as easily as I took away the whiskers, so that when I was done, I'd be looking at younger version of my father. But wishes don't carry much weight in the real world.

I decided it was best to work from home and when Mary came over to start her shift, she wanted to take him to the VA for a check-up. When they got back, she told me my father had a broken bone in his cheek, but no other signs of damage. He looked like a battered prize fighter.

I had a date that evening with a woman I had met online. I had arranged to have Edith, our weekend caretaker, stay with my dad while I went out for a few hours. As I finished off my day's work, my tenant's son came downstairs to tell me the electricity in his room had blown out yet again.

This has been happening a lot lately and it was making me very nervous. Our handyman Tony had said the recent heatwave had caused Con Ed to cut back on the power to Brooklyn, but the heatwave was over before Friday and they weren't using the air conditioner upstairs.

I went downstairs and threw the circuit breaker back into position. There was a nasty snarl and the circuit slammed back down again. Okay, you bastard, I thought, I'll fix your ass. And I threw it back up. And it came down again.

There Was Something In the Air That Night

I spent a good part of Friday afternoon going up and down the cellar steps till I finally got over the denial and realized the house was on the injured list, too. The house is old, like my father, and they're both breaking down.

Tony doesn't do electrical work so I ended up calling this company that installed my basement windows over the holidays and asking if they knew any good electricians. They said gave me a name and he's coming tomorrow. Please, Dear Lord, don't let him be a schmuck.

I kept wondering if I should postpone the date for Friday night, but the last time I did that, the woman never got back to me for a second attempt. I figured the electrician couldn't make it until Monday, Edith is watching my dad, what could go wrong?

I found out a short time later when I met my date at Ground Zero and took her to a Mexican place near Battery Park City for drinks. We had a nice chat and then "Dancing Queen" came on the sound system. I had heard this tune earlier in the day while shopping and I mentioned this to my date.

My cell phone went off. Notice I don't it rang, I say it "went off"--like a hand grenade. It was my sister telling me she had just called 911 for my father.

I began telling my date what was going on when my sister called again and to say they were going to Lutheran Medical Center. I told her I'd met her there, explained the situation to my date, and got the check.

There's a kind of mindset you need to survive in the emergency room. You have to be in a sort of waking coma, where you're functioning, asking and answering questions, but you're not screaming and yelling, why, God, why, even though someone very close to you could be dying.

I found my sister inside the ER standing next to my father, who was in a nearby bed, attached to various machines. His blood sugar had dropped, probably because he doesn't eat enough, and there was a chance he might have had a stroke. His face had swelled up even more in the last few hours.

So we waited, dashed home to get a list of his meds, ran back and waited some more. The ER waiting room has got to be the most depressing spot on earth, especially on a Friday, when everyone on earth except you and the rest of the poor bastards around you is out having a good time.

You're sealed off in this glass booth, like you're all diseased, and you stare up at the TV not really taking in any of what you're watching while someone you care for is hanging by a thread.

While my sister and I were standing next to our father in the ER, this young Russian man was sitting next to us, singing softly with his face in his hands. It sounded like an old folk song and it constrasted with the various beeps, clicks, and bells going on around us. His father was in the neighboring bed and was very ill, he said, but he still tried to give us some encouragement.

"It's all in God's hands," he said.

We finally left and made plans to return the next day. Beautiful weather on Saturday, perfect for a beach or a picnic, but we were going inside the hospital for the whole day.

Now I thought Friday was a nightmare, but it turned out to be a warm-up for Saturday. We found my father to be vague, sickly and downright vicious. He was yelling at us and we were yelling back and I got so angry I wanted to walk out. He's always relied on shouting at or hitting people to get his way, but I was not in the mood for his psycho tough guy act this time.

"Hey, guy," I shouted, flipping him the bird. "Can you see this?"

I wanted to be split into two people at that moment, with one version serving as the loyal son, while the other one took off for California and never came back. That's just one more worthless wish.

My father was rambling, making no sense, and it was very scary.

"Is mom worried about me?" he asked, even though she's been dead for the last four years.

"Dad," my sister told him very gently. "Mom's gone. Remember?"

"Oh," he responded. "There's no future in the grave."

"Truer words were never said," my sister replied as she took her seat.

We finally gave him his dinner and got the hell out of there.

It's 2 Up in the Morning, Baby

On the way back to my sister's car, we walked by a film crew that was shooting a rap video at a bodega at Third Avenue and 53rd Street. There was a crowd forming and a mini-traffic jam as drivers slowed down for some rubber-necking. I peered through the bodies and saw somebody with an air celebrity sitting in front of the bodega.

"That's Fat Joe," a young man said to me with a note of reverence.

I don't know Fat Joe that well, but I figure he's got to be better than Abba.

It's hard to imagine something more unlike my father's muscial tastes than hip hop or rap. My father loved Roger Miller and Bobby Darin. So even though Fat Joe and company were just a few blocks away from his hospital room, they were working their magic on a whole other planet.

We went to a newly opened Asian restaurant one Third Avenue where I had too much Prosecco and didn't care. As a joke I told the waitress about Fat Joe and not only did she know him, she said her sister has a photo of herself and Fat Joe together. I suppose it's a small world when you're a Fat Joe.

I went home, wrapped myself around the DVD player and watched a few hours of The Shield.

My father was a little better today. He slept much of the day and was fairly agreeable while I fed him. On Monday I have to call the social worker at my dad's senior center to get started on the Medicaid application for my father. His doctor has already told us my dad belongs in a nursing home and the nurse at Lutheran told Mary the same thing.

Whatever happens, it's not going to be an easy time for my family.

I read that Mike Douglas, the old talk show host had died on Friday, on his birthday, no less. Another sign that day was cursed.

I remembered watching that show for years. He used to have a guest host sit with him for a whole week. I remember William Shatner and Mamma Cass, among others who had that honor. One time three Carradine brothers appeared on the show.

Mike Douglas seemed like a sincerely nice man and I was sorry to learn of his death. I dated a woman in college whose old aunts used to refer to him as "Mike."

I saw this on Mike today, one of them would say, and you were supposed to know which Mike they were talking about. Now everyone seems to know who Fat Joe is, though I'm a little confused.

I'm sure those old ladies are gone now, Mike is gone, and it looks like my father is not far behind. I'm not going to blame Abba for my troubles, but it sure is tempting.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Passion of the Principal

When I was growing up, my mother had this expression she'd say if she saw of any us stuffing our faces while standing up.

"Sit down," she'd declare, "and eat come un Cristiano!"

Eat like a Christian. Now my mother didn't have a bigoted bone in her body, but I can see where this phrase would be rather disturbing to a lot of people as it equates being civilized with being Christian.

I used to wonder why eating standing up was such an offense to the All Mighty. I wanted to ask my Jewish friends in school, hey, why don't you guys sit down when you eat?

This phrase came to mind recently the other day when I got an e-mail from an outfit that billed itself as a Christian Lending Network.

I figured I had enough Christians already and didn't need to borrow anymore, so I put my cursor on the delete button. But then I realized this company was offering to loan money "based on Christian Principles."

"Put Your Faith in Us!" The ad copy shouts to the heavens. "Bad Credit? No Problem."

The ad features a photo of a hand clutching Rosary beads, to give you that feeling of authority; in this case, a higher authority. It gave me few ideas about other possible taglines.

We Crucify the Competition! How's that for a slogan? Or Our Rates Are So Low It's A Miracle!

Perhaps they could keep it simple and just say God Wants You to Borrow From Us.

I'm hardly the best Christian on the block, in spite of--or because of--eight years of Catholic school, but there's something about people using religion as a way of pulling in customers that really ticks me off.

I'm sure the people in this company will swear on a stack of Bibles that they are truly good Christians and follow the Lord's teaching as they figure out your interest payments, but I seem to recall Jesus chasing the money lenders out of the temple for doing the same thing.

There's something wrong here; religion shouldn't be fused with capitalism to pull in customers. Christianity is being used to woe voters, start illegal wars, stifle science and now as business come-on.

You have to wonder what would happen to anyone who defaulted on loan with these guys. I finally saw Mel "Lethal Weapon" Gibson's religious snuff movie The Passion of the Christ and it's a little scary to think about. I guess the First Bank of Jesus could use clips from the movie with a warning: don't let this happen to you.

This movie was the product of a very sick mind as it is nothing but a stomach-turning spectacle of violence, torture, and gore, combined with stunningly bad filmmaking. Mary, my dad's aide, loaned me the DVD, telling me how she cried upon viewing it, and I can see why. I nearly puked.

Forget about the beauty of Christ's teaching. Oh, hell, no, that's for pansies. Mel's Jesus is a literal whipping boy as he gets his sanctified butt slammed all over Bethlehem. Jesus is punched, kicked, spat upon, insulted, and I think they turn down his bank loan, too.

Then it gets violent.

Gibson throws the a few bits of Christ's word into the mix, along with several quarts of His blood, and a few pounds of flesh, but if you went in there expecting to learn about the word of God, you're bound to wind up covering your eyes and shouting "Oh, Jesus!" on more than one occassion.

Mortal Sin

I remember the summer this atrocity came out. I remember church groups flocking to theaters by the busload, people going on about how beautiful it was. Beautiful? Yeah, I guess if you're a butcher or an anatomy student.

I kept waiting for Jason from the Friday the 13th flicks to show up and really get the party started, but I'm happy to report that Satan--portrayed by a woman--does make an appearance, accompanied by some grubby little devil baby who seems ready to spew pea soup at the drop of a whip.

Gibson was appearing on TV in a series of eye-bulging interviews, convinced people were out to get him, stop him from sending his sacred message. I seem to recall him ducking questions about his father's Holocaust denials as he pushed his movie.

My sister and I watched the film while our father was in the hospital, on the same weekend, it turns out, that Herr Gibson got nailed in Mailbu and went all Goebbels on a Jewish sheriff's deputy. Gosh, Mel, you're making all us Christians feel so proud.

There was so much blood-letting that when we actually found something amusing, we couldn't stop laughing. It happened when Simon was forced to help Jesus carry the Cross. Jesus collapses yet again--in slow motion, of course, the sign of a true hack--and Simon looks down and speaks to him very soothingly.

"We're almost there," he said.

This is good news? You know what happens when Jesus gets there, don't you, big guy? They'll going to nail him to that Cross you guys are lugging, so if you're trying to inspire the man to get up and walk, I don't think you're going about it the right way.

Of course, the Crucifiction is all the more horrible, as the spikes are hammered straight through Christ's hands and feet. For some reason, the Romans drop the Cross twice--with Jesus along for the ride--like some kind of twisted coin toss.

It goes on and on, until one woman in the crowd says "Someone should put a stop to this!" To which I say, amen, sister, amen.

When I was in fifth grade everybody in my school went to see The Greatest Story Ever Told. It wasn't required viewing, but you got the distinct feeling that no good Catholic would miss this flick.

Of course I wanted to be a good Catholic, but I also wanted to see David McCallum, who played Illya Kuryakin in my favorite TV show at the time, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He portrayed Judas in the movie and it was tough seeing my favorite spy become the biggest traitor in Christendom.

Other than that, I recall very little of The Greatest Story Ever Told. There was Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate; Sidney Portier as Simon. I remember Illya--I mean Judas--throws himself into a pit of fire instead of hanging himself, but then that's Hollywood for you. They can never follow the book.

I remember something else about the older film. I didn't want to vomit. I didn't run out of the theater screaming and I had no urge to throttle the director while shrieking what the hell is wrong with you, you sick son-of-a-bitch! It was a while ago, but I think I would have remembered something like that.

So now we have pundits wondering about Gibson's career, but I'm a little more concerned about my religion. Gibson will recover. Christianity is another matter. The way Gibson, George Bush, and the rest of the Rapture wrecking crew are going at it, Christianity may never be the same.

I gave Mary her DVD back today. I love her dearly for all the care she's shown my father, so there was never a thought of telling her what I really thought of the thing. She knows I didn't like it and that's the end of it. I kept my more strident feelings to myself.

It's the Christian thing to do.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Night Patrol

I feel like a ghost in this empty house.

At one time, this place was full of people--my parents, four children, my grandmother, a dog and a cat, a whole tribe living in a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor.

People grew up, moved on, or died and now, with my father in the hospital, I'm like a night watchman at some obscure museum.

I walk the length of this place checking the doors, switching off the lights. I finally got the privacy I so desperately craved, but now it feels unnatural and unhealthy. I feel like I'm under house arrest. Which in a sense, I am.

I wish I could tell you I'm doing the whole Risky Business thing, dancing and lip-synching in my underwear, but that doesn't work so well for a 49-year old man. I do have less chores with my father away, I don't have to make his coffee in the morning, heat up his pancakes, or give him his medicine.

Instead of "Old Time Rock 'n Roll" I'm thinking of an old Fifth Dimension song called "One Less Bell to Answer."

This is what'll be like when he dies, I thought one morning as I got ready for work. My "To Do" list will suddenly be a lot shorter.

The other night I heard a noise someplace and I came walking out into the living room's total darkness. I got spooked all of a sudden, as if the bogey man had returned from my childhood to raise hell with my middle age. Just like the bastard to do something like that.

I turned on the lights in every room as I walked and then turned them off as I walked back to the bedroom (I'm sleeping in my parents' room, now that I'm master of the house.) No trace of the bogey man, I'm happy to report.

My sister used to make a big production of checking to see if the doors were all locked and my brother and I used to tease her, tapping our in a military cadence as she walked by and chanting "Night Patrol" mockingly deep voices.

And my mother was big on locking the place up at night. She'd check the locks, always using the same expression in melodramatic tones.

"We don't want to be murdered in our beds!" she would say.

I'm not sure why being murdered in our beds would be worse than being murdered anywhere else in the house, but I liked how she said. Back when I was in college, my mother and I took turns reading Stephen King's modern vampire take, Salem's Lot.

King is hardly a great writer, but I have to say that was one of the scariest books I've ever read. I remember reading it while I was sitting in the Hunter College cafeteria and I was just about shaking as the undead began doing their thing.

Many of the vampires in the book spent their daylight hours in various basements and when my mother read the book she refused to go into our cellar for a month--even when the sun was out.

The place is a mess, and it's only gotten worse over the years, but I don't think any blood-sucking corpses live down there.

"Mom," I said to her, "do you seriously think there's such a thing as vampires? And they'd be in our cellar?"

But logic couldn't win out over old world superstition, so my mom avoided going down those old cellar steps until her fear eventually faded away.

Who Goes There?

My father comes home tomorrow, a day that promises to be the hottest one on record. The weather experts are talking about temperatures of 100 degrees or better and with this heat index business it's probably going to feel like Ninth Circle of Hell or the far side of Mercury around here.

My tenants keep tripping the circuit breaker, which means I have to keep going down into the basement, vampires or not, and put the lights back on. I did it four times tonight already and if they come to the door one more time, I'm going to climb out the back window.

I'm not an electrician, but the trouble we've been having may be connected to their recent purchase of an industrial sized air conditioner that's probably better suited for a meat locker than a private home. Just a thought.

I feel like things are spinning out of my control. Of course it's a fallacy to think we have much say in our lives, but still, before my father went in, I thought I could go along pretty much as I always did. Now I feel like I'm bound to this place like a condemned spirit.

My sister thinks my father cannot be alone anymore, even for a short amount of time. That means if I want to go out at night, I'll have to find someone to watch him for a couple of hours.

We already have Mary, who is a godsend, and George, my father's aid from the V.A., but they can't be here 24/7. So I'm trying out a woman for the weekend and Mary is asking around to see if she can come up with some people.

In between trips to the basement, I spoke to the woman who's coming over from Flatbush. It took her 10 minutes to get the directions to our house down and I'm still not sure she's got it. And she expects us to pay for a cab to take her back home.

"Fifty-eighth street," she said in her West Indian accent.

"No," I said, "sixty-eighth street..."

I'm worried about being stuck when I want to go out. I'm worried we won't have the money to pay for all this additional help. I'm worried my father will get worse--inevitable, really--and I'll be stuck here even more, feeding him chicken soup while I slowly turn into an old man. I look up and I'll have turned into him.

I've had such selfish thoughts over the last few days. I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the hospital, two gorgeous summer days stuck inside that oppressive building when I really wanted to be on a beach somewhere leering at all the pretty young things in their bikinis.

My father was actually supposed to come home today, but Mary twisted some arms at the hospital and got them to keep my dad there for another day. I don't know how she does it, but Mary's got more nerve in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

I know these are terrible thoughts and it only serves to turn up the heat on my self-loathing. He's your father, I tell myself. He took care of you, the least you could do is return the favor.

But, honestly, I just want to run away, change my name, move to a new city, and start a brand new life. I need a family version of the witness protection program. Am I an evil man for thinking this way or do even the most noble among us have occassional fantasies about flight?

I'm thinking now of a scene from a great old western, The Magnificent Seven, where the heroes have been betrayed by the people they're trying to protect and being driven out of town.

The gunsligners are angry and debate about going back to take out the banditos. One guy, a gambler who only took the job for money, says something like "I don't like running away, but there comes a time when you have to turn mother's picture to the wall and go."

I dream of a life without responsibilities, but I know that's impossbile. If I had gotten married, I would have a wife and possibly a family to take care of. If I meet Miss Right tomorrow, I'll have to give up something of myself to be a good man to her.

So, I'll rest up and pray for strength and cooler weather. I'll try not to despair, or wonder what I could be doing or what I should have done with my life when I was 22. This is the only life I have and I'm going to do the best I can with it.

I won't turn mother's picture to the wall and I'll do my best to fill this empty old house with all the positive energy I can muster. Let's hope it lasts.