Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Peter Pan Terrorists

I've been told that one sign of paranoia is going to a football game and thinking the guys in the huddle are talking about you.

And here's another: getting on a bus and convincing yourself there's an al-Qaeda suicide squad sitting behind you.

This actually happened to someone I know and I'm sorry to say that someone was me.

I was in Northampton, Mass. last week, at the end of my vacation, waiting with my dear auntie to take the bus back to New York. I hate buses and I hate waiting for the bastards even more.

I'm always convinced I'm going to miss them, that I'll arrive in the depot all breathless and cross-eyed just in time to see my bus disappear in a cloud of mocking exhaust.

The Wild Bunch

I have taken many buses in my time and this has yet to happen, but this hasn't prevented me from thinking this way. On the contrary, I worry even more about missing a bus, even when I'm not taking one.

I love trains and would have gladly taken one to Northampton or Pittsfield, Mass., but Amtrak doesn't have a stop in Northampton and the route to Pittsfield is so long, and circuitous, with detours to Boston, Norwalk, and Gdansk, that you feel like a paperback private eye trying to shake a tail.

And the trip only takes a mere 7 hours by train. Christ, I could be in Brazil by then.

So I'm stuck with the bus and the bus is stuck with me. We arrived at the bus depot on this fine late summer day in plenty of time, but I still had to go inside the depot and ask the ticket lady what time the bus was due. She told me 1:25 pm.

"Is it on time?" I asked, thinking she was somehow wired into the bus's movements like a cyborg. But she only shrugged.

"I'll know at 1:26 pm," she said.

All right, so my auntie and I take our seats outside and wait. The weather is stunning and I'm miserable. I'm going back home with all its misery, my job, and a ton of things to clean up in this rambling soap opera known as my life.

And that's when I see the trunks. Nearly a dozen of them, of all shapes and sizes, stacked on the curb waiting to be loaded on to the next bus. I see a family, two college-aged boys, and the parents. And then I hear them talking amongst themselves.

They're speaking Arabic.

Well, so what? I grew up around Syrian people, I live in New York, where Arabic is one of the thousands of languages you hear everyday on your way to pick up a newspaper.

So, they're speaking Arabic, or more precisely, what I believe to be Arabic. Does that automatically make them terrorists?

Well, on this particular late summer day, in my frenzied state of sort of...did.

Little Did They Know...

I don't know what came over me, but I slowly became certain that these two young men were suicide bombers and those various trunks piled up before me contained enough plastic explosives to turn the Holland Tunnel in a cheese grater.

It was crazy, nuts, and yes, just a little paranoid. I was shooting a B-movie in my brain, with the killers leaping up from their seats just as the bus was midway through the tunnel and shouting "God is great," or "Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us," detonating their luggage and sending thousands of rush hours commuters--and me--to a watery grave.

I couldn't shake this crazy idea from my head. My aunt had packed a lunch for me so I could eat on the way down and I was thinking this could be my last meal. (It was pretty good--chicken sandwich, homemade brownie and a nice orange already sliced for my dining convenience.)

What should I do? Skip this bus and take the next one, four hours from now? Yeah, it would be a tremendous pain, but it would beat the hell out of making the evening news.

I thought of telling my auntie, in this rather odd belief I have where I'm convinced I'll spare myself some terrible fate if I talk about openly, like the cosmic forces lining up against me will suddenly break ranks and run because I've spoken about their plans out loud.

But I couldn't say something so ridiculous. And I knew it was ridiculous even as I was thinking about it. I was upset, I didn't want to go home and see my elderly father, and so my imagination jumped down the rabbit hole and cooked up this bizarro terrorist plot.

Yeah, it was nuts. But there's that nagging post-9/11 fear that says terrorist attacks can happen anytime, anywhere to anybody--including me. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and those airplanes were filled with ordinary people going through what looked was going to be an ordinary day. Until it wasn't.

That's The Ticket

Like the saying goes, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

But this was over the top. The terrorists would pick a spot like Northampton to launch their attack, and they'd be reduced to taking the bus? And my bus, to boot?

I'm so ashamed. I like to imagine myself as a sophisticated, New York liberal (bite me, neo-cons) and yet here I was thinking like some yahoo from South Succatash who's running late for his klan meeting.

I was running up a full head of twisted steam until I finally told myself, if you are heading to that big bus depot in the sky, you might as well relax. I looked up at the beautiful blue sky and thought at least you have good weather for your last day of existence.

The bus rolled in about 12 minutes later and I hugged my aunt, a little closer perhaps than usual. I got on seat onboard and looked out the window to see the Arabic family exchanging goodbyes.

I saw that the two sons and their father were getting on board. I had initially imagined that it was just the two boys giving their lives for Allah, but when I saw Pop get on, too, I became doubtful that this was a family terrorist act, like a kind of Exploding Wallendas.

The bus started up and we rolled out of town. I didn't think I'd have much of an appetite, what with certain death looming over me, but by the time we made our first stop I was halfway through the sandwich and when the bus pulled into Springfield for a transfer, there was nothing left of my aunt's Care package but the orange. And I soon polished that off, too.

I saw the father and sons move their luggage to my New York-bound bus, but I didn't care anymore. I knew I had let my fears get the better of me, something that can happen with nations as well as individuals.

I had unfairly judged these poor people and I can only thank God I kept my mouth shut and didn't scream for Homeland Security.

Yes, if you see something, by all means, say something. But if you imagine something, if you let bigotry and fear overrule your rational mind, it's best to sit back and eat your orange.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back in Town

Vacation's over, I'm back in Brooklyn, and I'm doing my best to keep from running out the door screaming.

Let's look at the bright side: I had a great time, far more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined.

Yes, by going to my aunt's farmhouse in the Berkshires, I was going to a comfort zone; I wasn't seeing any new places or meeting new people.

But the Northampton, Mass. area is truly a wonderful place, a perfect balance of beautiful countryside with fabulous things to do and see.

During my 7 days up there, I visited two art museums, saw two movies, went to a jazz concert, hooked up with an old buddy from Brooklyn, ate like a hog, saw beautiful scenery and cheerfully made time to just lay on my ass in the sun.

I was away from my job, my tenants, and, God forgive me, my family. I didn't have to keep an eye on my father, I didn't have to jump every time I heard a noise, and I could sleep all morning if I so desired.

For all my complaining and whining about going to this place year after year, I realized finally that a lot of people would give their eye teeth to have a deal like mine. Free room and board, tremendous location, and plenty to see and do--what's not to love?

I had to take the bus up there, which truly does suck, especially the transfer at Springfield. Much as I dislike the Port Authority bus terminal in New York, the Springfield bus depot truly is the land of the lost. A battle-scarred building in a rundown city just doesn't put a smile on your face.

Where Do They All Come From?

I usually wait for the Northampton bus outside, clutching my suitcase and hoping no one of the local lowlifes tries to spoil my day. The interstate and the area bus lines share the same facility so there are all sorts of colorful--read "creepy"--characters loitering around the building.

But this time I really looked at the faces around me while I waited and I have to say, I was looking at people who for the most part were just down on their luck. These are the sort of people who don't have enough money to fly, so they'll ride the bus all the way down to Florida when they have to.

They're out of work or have lousy jobs they pay nothing, or certainly not enough to get them out of Springfield. And so many of them seem to hurting: I saw people on crutches or with their arms in slings, or on walkers or in wheelchairs. I saw people who could have been me under tougher circumstances.

Someday I'd like to go back there and hang around; talk to people, get story ideas, maybe even shoot a film. It's quite a location.

It rained the first two days of my vacation, which honestly didn't bother me. I was glad to be away from Senator Street. When the sun finallycame out, my aunt and I drove over to Shelburne Falls where we checked out the beautiful bridge of flowers and the trolley museum.

We even made a friend of sorts, an older gentleman named Ronnie, who was walking down Main Street with his shoulders slumped and his hands hanging by his side. Ronnie started talking to us, apparently because he doesn't have many friends in town.

He told us he was lived at some kind of state home up the street and he didn't have much to do there. And he told us about his battle with alcohol.

"My father died and they wouldn't let me go to the funeral," he said to my aunt. "I started know what I'm talking about, Marie?"

I'm ashamed to say that I started feeling a little uncomfortable, as if Ronnie were getting a little too interested in my aunt. He kept saying her name, Marie, with a little bit more emphasis on it than I liked. I doubt he meant anything by it, and even if he did, my aunt could have certainly handled it herself.

But I saw a local deli advertising Internet connections and I quickly went inside claiming I wanted to check my e-mails. I actually did, but I think part of me wanted to get my aunt away from Ronnie. And it turned out the deli didn't have any terminals, just the connections for laptops.

Ronnie was probably a lot like some of the people in the bus depot; someone who's been through tough times and just wanted someone to talk to. LIke the Beatles said many years ago, "all the lonely people, where do they all come from?"

Star Power

At night, my aunt and I would take walks under the stars to the crossroads near her house. There are no street lights around here, so you can see the sky lit up with stars, like you're in the Hayden Planetarium. Only this is real.

And it's so quiet up there. All you hear around my aunt's farm are birds, crickets, and the occassional car driving by. No radios, no blaring horns, no trailer trash tenants trying to kill each other--I tell you, Heaven must be a lot of like this.

I never went near a computer for the entire time. No blogging, no Googling, no e-mailing--I was a totally tech-free. And I loved it. The Internet's a beautiful thing, don't get me wrong, but like anything else in this life, you need to step away from it every now and then.

Every year I toy with the idea of relocating to Northampton. Right now it's impossible, of course, given the situation with my father, but in the future, who knows? I don't think I'd like the winters, but it's such a nice area, I could think I could get used to it.

I took time for some serious soul-searching while I was up there. I realized just how unhappy I am and how I need to change. I was pretty depressed coming home on the bus, but that's to be expected when your vacation ends and you have to rejoin the rat race.

For some reason, I was really fixating on the fact that I never had children. I was riding in this air-conditioned fish tank, looking out the streets of Manhattan, and it seemed like everywhere I looked I saw mothers or fathers hugging their kids.

I'm going to be 50 in May, so I don't think there's much hope of me having a child. I've had so much trouble standing on my own two feet, I'm not sure I could handle being a father. But a young father once told me that there's a perfect time to have a family, that nobody's ever completely prepared, no matter how much they claim to be.

Now, I'll probably have to accept the fact that I won't have a kid and it's a little upsetting. Maybe I'm afraid I'll end up like Ronnie, looking to total strangers for comfort and conversation.

But I have my nieces, whom I love so dearly, and I'm always waving or smiling at every cute kid I see. I'll keep that up as long as I didn't get zapped with pepper spray.

If I can't get away from the situation with my father, I'll work on myself from the inside out--stop the moping and start doing things to improve my life.

I made of list of things I planned to do; I'm going to clean up this hell hole of a bedroom that I currently live in and then I'm going to knock down those unfinished projects that I have hanging over my head.

So I'm glad I got a chance to step out of myself for a little while. Now the real work begins.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Day After, The Night Before

I heard from my 9/11 companion Eva this morning.

We had been corresponding each year on that date to mark our first meeting in downtown New York.

I thought she wasn't going to write this year, but this morning, I found her e-mail waiting for me.

She told me what had been going on in the last year, how her 89-year-old grandmother had to finally go to into a nursing home because she couldn't take care of herself anymore.

I certainly know how that feels, since my family is going through the same trouble with my father, who is looking more frail with every passing day.

Eva told me that she and her husband had adopted a German Shepherd from the North Shore Animal League who had been rescued after Hurricane Katrina.

The dog--they named her Hetta--was 67 pounds when they got her, but they have since bulked her up to a healthy 91 pounds. Eva even sent me a photo of Hetta, which cheered me up.

This has been a tough day. I am about to take off for vacation tomorrow and everything--I mean everything--is going to hell. I knew it would be crazy, but I had no idea the pre-launch would be this bad.

I'm going to my aunt's farmhouse in the Berkshires, a place I truly love. But I've been going there for years and I haven't gone anywhere new or different in years. A large part of this is connected to my fear of flying, something I intend to confront when I get back.

Hypnosis, relaxation tapes, I'll even take flying lessons if I have to, but I want to exorcise this phobia from my life. There are too many places in the world that I can't reach by Greyhound.

And by the way, I am so dreading the bus trip, especially that waiting period in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I hate that place. It's purgatory with bus fumes. Nothing feels better than pulling out of that massive garage and hitting the road.

I Oughta Be In Pictures...But I'm Not!

So, did I get a nice relaxing evening before my trip? Oh, come on, now. Use your head. First, I find a series of potentially cool events are suddenly popping up on the calendar on those very days I'll be out of town.

Then the nursing service from the VA calls and says they're sending someone over tomorrow, even though I called them on Monday and told them not to. I won't be home Wednesday and Mary, my father's aide, doesn't have the time to break in a new person.

I couldn't reach the service tonight, so if the guy ends up sitting on my front steps twiddling his thumbs, that's the breaks, sweetheart.

Then my idiot tenants shortchanged me on the rent, something they do on a regular basis. My sister and I had initially agreed to getting the rent in two installments--I know, schmucks!--but yesterday the wife comes down with the first half of the rent, only it's a 100 bucks light. She promises to give the rest to Mary this morning.

Naturally when I get home, I still don't have my 100 bucks. So I go to her door and ring the bell. She comes down all apologetic, saying her husband or son or whoever's got the goddamn money was sleeping. It's all horseshit and her apologies have as much value as Confederate bills.

I was raging around the house for a while, but I finally decided that I'm pulling the plug on the partial rent crap. Starting January, they will pay the full rent on the first of the month like everybody else in the solar system and if they don't like it they can pack their goddamn bags.

I think the worst incident of the day involved my little ego. As I came home, I saw that my block, Senator Street, is going to be the star of television show called "The Black Donnellys."

I've had this dream of being a filmmaker and agonized for years over whether or not I should move to L.A. I never did, and except for 10 years in PA and CT, I've been living on Senator Street my entire life and hating myself for it.

So now here's the ultimate insult. Some is shooting a scene not just in New York, not just in Brooklyn, not just in my neighborhood, but on my goddamn street!!!

My house is going to have more movie experience than I do. I'm glad I'm missing this one because all I'd do if I were here would be to watch and fume.

The plot is about four Irish brothers in Hell's Kitchen, so what they're doing on my street I don't know. But I can survive this. I never really wanted to shoot anything on this block, except perhaps myself or my father. (Just kidding.)

And I did make a step toward shooting my own film. I wrote a short screenplay and I contacted a young man in this MeetUp filmmakers group and asked him if he wanted to be my director of photography. This is very important. I've seen enough rotten-looking short films to know that if people don't like what they see, they won't care if you wrote the next Citizen Kane.

He has yet to get back to me and if he doesn't, well, I'll find somebody else in the group. I'm going to get a crew together and I'm going to shoot this sucker. And then the Black Donnelly's can kiss my royal Irish kazoo.

All right, enough of this. What would Hetta think of all this anger and rage?

I'm going to close up my suitcase, watch some tube, and go to bed. I need a vacation and I'm going to enjoy myself, whether I like it or not.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Lord, Hear Our Prayer

I went back to Ground Zero today, five years after the destruction of the World Trade Center.

I've been by there before, of course, but this was the first time in a long while that I took a long look at that vast hole in the ground and really thought about what happened there on Sept. 11, 2001.

I started my day by sending my traditional anniversary e-mail to a woman named Eva, whom I met on 9/11 in a senior residence, where we and so many had taken refuge after the towers collasped.

Eva was in from Long Island for just that day and we walked over the Manhattan Bridge together to Brooklyn, where I directed to the LIRR station at Atlantic Avenue.

She later called me her angel for guiding her to the station. I didn't think I did all that much, but I must confess it did feel good to be called an angel. It doesn't happen often.

Before going to Ground Zero I stopped by St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, which is just a block away, to pay my respects to those who died on that day.

I used to go to St. Peter's a lot back when I worked on Liberty Street for Goldman Sachs. Every Wednesday I'd attend the lunch time mass and I marveled at how quickly the priests could get the service done if they really had to. I wish they had worked that fast back when I was going to Our Lady of Angels.

After 9/11, Goldman pulled out of the Liberty Plaza building and I worked down on Water Street. I stopped going to St. Peter's.

Today's service had already begun, but I made it in time to say the Our Father and then exchange the sign of peace with the people around me.

I usually find that part of the mass a bit corny, but shaking a stranger's hand and wishing him or her peace on a day like today felt very comforting indeed.

There were a lot of suits in and around the church, which I guess meant there were some people of import inside attending the service. If there were any around, I didn't seem them.

I was also in time for the part of the mass where the priest or deacon recites a series of requests, and the congregation responds "Lord, hear our prayer." One of them seemed to be meant especially for me.

"For those who resist the pull of hatred," the deacon said, "and for those who have succumbed...Lord, hear our prayer."

Live Every Day

I thought about the trouble I've been having with my father, who marked his 85th birthday today, how I've been so angry with him, how I wanted to pound with my fists when he tried to attack I had succumbed to the pull of hatred.

What is a terrorist, but someone who hates millions of people instead of just one? But it seems I'm still worthy of prayer and I came out of church feeling like there was some hope for me.

People were walking all around Ground Zero. One Asian lady was by the fence making paper cranes for peace, according to the cardboard sign she had placed in front of her.

She invited people to talk to her as she worked and now I regret I didn't speak with her. She seemed like such a sweet lady, it would have been nice to hear what she had to say.

There were a bunch of people going around in black t-shirts that read "Investigate 9/11." I'm not sure if these were the controlled demolition crowd or some other outfit and I didn't stop to ask. There were a number of anti-Bush signs, and one schmuck--you can tell I'm a liberal, right?--held a sign reading "When the Left Says Peace, They Mean Surrender."

I guess if I hit took the sign away and hit him over the head with it, I'd be succumbing to hatred, wouldn't I? Oh, hell...

And speaking of hell, there was a man standing outside the stock exchange, reading from the Bible and holding a sign that read "Except Ye Repent, Ye Shall Likewise Perish."

I kind of wished that guy had taken the day off. Terrorizing people with images of eternal damnation doesn't make you any less a terrorist. People will find their way to God or they won't. Calling everyone sinners at such a painful time is one of the worst sins of all.

And I would have preferred that both sides of the political equation had stayed home. This is a time for remembrance and healing, not for slogan hurling. We can always go back to bickering bright and early on 9/12.

We didn't do much for my father's birthday, as his blood sugar was so high yesterday we had to postpone his planned birthday dinner. I've been so appalled by his recent behavior that I didn't buy a present and I picked up the cheapest, most forgettable birthday card ever made.

I usually leave his card on the breakfast table, where he can find it first thing in the morning, but this year I just gave him a curt "Happy Birthday" and went to work. Maybe I should be appalled at my own behavior.

I feel a little ashamed now and my sister and I plan to give him a decent birthday celebration when I get back from vacation.

Today is the day where you think about what's really important in life, about how all our petty feelings, all our worries and concerns really don't mean a damn thing. Today we reflect on how fragile life is and how we should treasure every second because it all can be taken away from us.

I thank God I got away from the trade center on that terrible day. I thank God I didn't lose any family members or friends in the attacks. And I'm going to pray that we never go through another day like that ever again.

It's about 11:30 p.m. and I should get to bed. I've got one more day before taking off for a short vacation and I went to be semi-fresh when I show up tomorrow. Naturally I have to tie up a few thousand loose ends before I leave and we all know I'm going to forget something. That's all part of the vacation experience.

It occurs to me now that the day is alomost over and Eva has not responded to my e-mail. Maybe she's busy, or on vacation herself. Or maybe she's decided that the annual e-mail exchange should end now, and that we should move on. I hope not. I like being someone's angel.

So, for all those who lose loved ones on 9/11 I can only repeat what I heard in church: Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Old Dogs

My father used to have this wisecrack he'd trot out whenever someone asked him for the time.

"It's time old dogs are dead," he'd say, "aren't you feeling sick?"

That phrase has been running through my head a lot over these last few days as my father's mental state has taken a downward slide.

It started late last week when he went berserk with George, his home healthcare attendant from the Veteran's Administration, butted heads with my sister, and got to a point where my father and I squared off in the dining room ready to start punching each other.

Yes, it's been a hell of a week.

Let George Do It

We'll start off with George, a nice, mellow African man who has been with my father for the last 2 1/2 years. He's soft-spoken and conscientious and seemed to get along with my father just fine. They used to go for walks together or have coffee in a local diner.

In the last year, however, the old man's become increasingly hostile with George, snapping at him and complaining about everything the guy did. It got worse recently as my father physically pushed George out of his way a few times.

Then things went off the deep end. George called me from at work and said my father refused to get washed and would I please talk to him? Fine, I said, put him on the phone.

But my father would not get on the phone. Instead he screamed and cursed at George to get the fuck out of his house over and over.

"You take orders from me," he shouted, "nobody else!"

I could hear all this, but even though I shouted for the old man to pick up, he wouldn't do it. Finally George came back on the line and I told him to call Mary, my dad's aide, and get her to come over to the house.

Mary did just that and ordered my father to get into the shower, which he did without a word of protest. I thought it was over, but then Mary called me a few hours later with some shocking news.

"I don't know how to tell you this," she said. "But George wants to quit."

I was stunned. I didn't anything could anger George. Whenever my father abused him and I apologized, George would smile and say, "it's the disease," referring to the old man's dementia.

But finally even he got fed up. I called him at his home that night and he said he was not coming back. He pointed out that other aides would have just walked out when the old man told them to, leaving my father without food or medication. He, however, would never do such a thing.

The problem was George was too nice and my father picked up on that. With my mother gone and his children grown, George was the last person on earth my father could bully. And now he was taking off. There are plenty of old people in this world. Why stick around with this old lunatic?

I miss George; he was good man, did his best, and, on the more practicle side, he knows his way around the house, so I don't have to show him every little thing.

"We used to get along," he said. "Why does he have to be so horrible?"

I've been asking that question for years, George, and I still don't have an answer. I guess because my father is so good at it.

We had a young girl come in one day this week and my father made disgusting remarks to her all day. I reminded him that this woman was the same age as his granddaughter.

"How would like someone to talk to Kristin that way?" I asked.

As always, my father's hearing tends to get worse when he doesn't like the question.

I was out late Thursday and my sister offered to watch my father until I got home. So I was standing on the train platform at W.72nd Street when my cell phone goes off. (I should get rid of that thing, since it only seems to convey bad news.)

My sister asked me to hurry up and get home. And then she started crying. She and my father had gotten into a terrible fight as she was taking into him back into the bedroom.

I came home and explained to her that it was okay, he was always very difficult and the dementia just made it worse.

"You should just walk away," I said, sounding like Marcus Welby. "You can't reason with him."

Close Shave, Comrade

And then it was my turn to face the beast.

The next morning I had to break in yet another new homecare aid. For some strange reason, the young woman who had come the other day didn't want to work with my father anymore.

Gee, I can't imagine why. Do you think it might have had something to do with him asking her to kiss his penis? Just a thought.

The new guy, Alex, was this very loud and rather dense Russian fellow. But things seemed to be going okay as he prepared to shave my father. He stripped the old man completely, sat him on the toilet, and lathered my father up.

I thought it might actually work out, but my father kept shifting his body, and finally, he jumped up to his feet while Alex had the razor against his neck.

"What are you doing?" I shouted, concerned he might sever his jugular.

And then he was in my face, shouting how he had a bad back and couldn't sit anymore. My father's been yelling at us for a long time and I just couldn't take it anymore. I started yelling back, and we were in each other's faces.

"Fuck you!" I finally shouted and walked out of the bathroom.

My father follows me out of the bathroom--stark fucking naked, mind you--screaming and cursing, saying he's going to break my fucking jaw.

"Don't you dare," I shouted.

He actually tried to hit me, the scumbag, but I picked it off. Imagine fighting with your naked 85-year-old father--it's image I'll take to my grave and I'd gladly have a lobotomy to remove it from my brain entirely.

"I was trying to help you," I said.

"Some help," he replied, rolling his eyes.

I started screaming that he could get his favorite son--the one who never shows his face around the house, doesn't do shit to help us, but somehow remains Daddy's little darling.

"He's nuts," the old man says to Alex, who witnessed this nightmare.

"May God strike you dead!" I shrieked, like some raging Puritan.

Finally--finally--I took my own advice and left. I walked for a few blocks, thinking about how much I hated my life. I'll be 50 years old in May 2007 and I'm still under this bastard's thumb.

I was mortified that I had lost control in front of a total stranger, that the neighbors must have heard the brawl, including our white trash tenants who have a screaming match every day of the week.

When I calmed down, I called Mary, told her what happened, and asked to go take care of the son-of-a-bitch before I killed him. Then I went up, got cleaned up, and went into work.

It's been a day or more now and I'm barely speaking to him. I know arguing with someone suffering from dementia is pretty demented in its own right, but I couldn't stop myself.

Something has died inside of me. I don't care about my father anymore. I'll do what is required of me as one of his children, but, frankly, he could drop dead tomorrow and I wouldn't bat an eye. I guess I'm like George. I've had enough.

We're taking my father out for his birthday tomorrow and I really don't want to go, but he doesn't have many left so we should at least go through the ritual. But I'm not getting him a present, as I believe that fact that I refrained from the beating the shit out of him to be a very nice gift in its own right.

I'm tired of this guy. Mary says he belongs in a nursing home, even though she'd lose her job if he did. He shouldn't be around people, certainly not me or my sister. I'm going away next week for a vacation in the Berkshires and maybe I'll feel differently about my father when I get back, but I doubt it.

What time is it? It's time old dogs were dead--isn't he feeling sick?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

London Calling

I think I'm finally ready to tell you about Lara from London.

It's been a couple of months now and seeing as today is Tony Bennett's birthday, I think it's a good time to take a look at this particular chapter of my life.

Sometimes I wonder if I didn't dream the whole thing up, but I still have a folder full of her e-mails to prove I didn't. She was real and for a while there, I was real happy.

I "met" Lara on a dating web site back in April while doing a routine search through the postage-stamp sized photos and abbreviated life stories for the woman of my dreams.

One caught my eye, an Englishwoman who looked really cute and who said she was moving to New York. Lara--not her real name, of course--seemed like someone I wanted to know. So I sent her an e-mail introducing myself and welcoming her to the Big Apple.

Most of the time I don't hear back from these cyber-people. It's a rejection, I suppose, but it usually doesn't bother me because these people really don't exist, at least not in my world. They're just blips on a screen and if they don't feel like writing back to me, hey, God bless you, have a nice life whoever you are.

But Lara did write back and I was thrilled. We began exchanging e-mails on something like a daily basis, learning more about each other, joking about the different slang expressions and spelling ("humour," "rumour," etc.)

I couldn't wait to log on to my email account. Because of the time difference I often wrote to her from work and every time I got a new message from her I was very happy indeed. She told me about the misery of moving, of how she had to sneak out at night and deposit her trash in front of other homes (her neighbours?) because she had so damn much of it.

At some point we started calling each other by affectionate names--honey, babe, sweetheart--all the good stuff. It had been so long since I had been involved in any kind of a relationship that I started to feel like I had a real girlfriend. So here I was a 49-year-old man acting like a teen-ager.

We set up a time for our first telephone conversation. I went to a local candy store, asked the young Arabic guy behind the counter for the best phone card for international calls, and then, early on a Saturday in late April, I made my first call to London.

A Foggy Day in London Town

It was fabulous. Lovely accent, lovely voice, I couldn't get enough of Lara. I wrote her an e-mail after the first call and saying that her voice was music to my ears.

Now when I read your e-mails, I wrote, I hear them in your sweet tones. Priceless.

And I meant it, too. From that day on, I lived for those Saturday morning calls. I'd clutched my phone card, banged out the number, and counted the rings until Lara picked up.

She sent me questionnaire with all these questions about life, family, friends. I think my favorite answer was when she asked if my bum looked big would you tell me? and I wrote back, yes, but only by e-mail.

I had trouble coming up with my own quiz and I initially swiped hers, which prompted her to rightfully cry "cop-out." But then I hit upon the idea of making all my questions film-related, as I love movies so much. She had good answers, especially the one about which film hero or heroine she most identified with.

"Lara Croft," she wrote, "you need to ask?"

I told very few people about Lara. I didn't post anything about our "relationship" because I didn't want to jinx it and, honestly, there was some small sliver of my brain warning that this wasn't real.

We had not met face-to-face, we had not spent any real time together, we were strangers separated by a very large body of water. But I was still crazy about her.

She was going to come into New York for a weekend in June and I was counting the days. I see that I ended my e-mails with "See You in June" and used my nom d'keyboard, "Me in N.Y.C."

It seemed to take forever for June to arrive. I kept wanting her to be here with me, but it was like being on a treadmill.

And then...the day came. I don't know, as I read this, I guess I come off as some prospector in the Old West waiting for a mail order bride. But I was excited. I told myself to calm down, to take it slow, don't get your hopes up, and let things happen naturally. And I then I promptly ignored every bit of my own advice.

So I was waiting in the lobby of an east side hotel. The woman behind the desk said they were not expecting anyone by that name and I'm getting panicky. Did she miss her plane? Do I have the right hotel? Am I out of my mind?

I felt like pervert hanging around the hotel's tiny lobby, watching tourists from all over the world come and go. I went outside and witnessed a minor car accident as a south Asian cab driver got into a fender bender with an older African-American lady right on the corner of Madison and 29th Street. And I just got more jittery.

Finally, a cab pulls up in front of the hotel, and I know it's Jane. She gets out, grabs her bag and there we are finally meeting in person. It seems she used her married name, or her maiden name, I forgot which, but that explained why the hotel clerk didn't know her.

I had it all planned. We'd have dinner that night and see a Broadway show the next afternoon. I was finally taking my English sweetheart out for a date.

And after all the build-up, all the e-mails, and the long distance phone calls, after all that emotion...there was absolutely no connection.

I felt it almost immediately, as we were going up to her room to drop off her suitcase. I don't have anything to say to this woman. I was struggling with the most inane "conversation" I could think of, but it was bad, real bad.

Dinner didn't improve things. The restaurant was kind of noisy, which didn't help, but there was a fundamental lack of communication that we could not overcome.

Set 'Em Up, Joe

I don't remember what we talked about over dinner; it was meaningless. I've had more intense conversations with my accountant, and I only talk to him at tax time. And we still had the matinee on Sunday.

Things did not improve the next day. We walked up to the theater from her hotel and I am reminded of Chairman Mao's long march. Somewhere around Grand Central, my sister called me on my cell and told me to have a nice time.

"I'll try," I said weakly.

If you have to try, of course, then there's no hope. At one point I couldn't help wondering if this was the same woman I had been "involved" with for so long. How could all the emotion, all the good feeling, just vanish like that?

After the play, we had dinner at a restaurant near her hotel, I walked Jane to her door, got a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, and hit the bricks.

I didn't have the courage to discuss the painfully obvious problem with her over dinner. It was hard to accept, frankly, and I didn't want to get angry and say something stupid, which has been known to happen. So I wrote her e-mail, the final one, on June 19th, after she'd gone back to England.

I told her how great it was to finally meet her--which is true--but I also said I was disappointed and somewhat confused about the lack of chemistry. I thanked her for the good times we did have and asked her what she thought happened, why the flicker didn't lead to a flame.

I didn't think I'd hear from her, but she did write back. She expressed her regrets, but didn't have an answer as to why it didn't happen between us. Maybe there is no answer.

Take care of yourself, she said, there is someone out there for you, and if you concentrate on the positive in life, good things can only follow.

I can't argue with any of the above, but I had hoped we'd have a lot more to say to each other than just these little sayings.

I feel like a man dying of thirst who runs to oasis in the desert only to find its a mirage. My "relationship" with Lara was great so long as existed in cyberspace. Once it hit reality, reality hit back, much harder.

So now it's a rainy Saturday in September and Tony Bennett is 79 years old. Jonathan Schwartz is playing a ton of Tony's songs on his radio show, and one jumped out of me. It's called Falling in Love With Love and it underscores my trouble.

Don't force relationships, don't create something out of nothing. If I meet someone else online, I want to see them in the real world ASAP. Weeks of writing and phone calls don't cut it. I've had bad dates before, but I didn't care so much about them because I didn't have this tremendous build-up.

While looking through my e-mails, I came across her photo, and I must say I miss her, or what I thought she was. I miss having someone in my life, no matter how ethereal. And I want to go back and make it work this time.

I don't know what you'd call these feelings, but you can bet Tony Bennett has a song about them.