Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye, Mr. Fink


My father may have cancer.

I can't believe this is happening, and God willing, it may not happen yet, but his doctor is concerned enough to order the necessary tests.

I spoke with Dr. Pearlman, my dad's doctor at the V.A., on Tuesday about my father's growing problem with incontinence.

My dad has been soiling himself on a pretty regular basis now and I thought it was one of the signs of Alzheimer's, or a symptom of a stomach virus. But I never thought anything like this.

Dr. Pearlman noted that my father has also been losing a great deal of weight, something like 20 pounds over the last six months.

That in itself is so hard to believe because my father has always been overweight, always eating too much, always eating the wrong foods, and always getting angry at my mother when she tried to get him to slim down.

My father did not want to hear it, as he larded on the butter or had another dish of ice cream. Now his clothes are hanging off him and Dr. Pearlman fears it may be a sign of colon cancer.

"I hope I'm wrong," he said.

Me, too.

I was at work when he told me this and I almost started crying. After my mother's long, painful death, I prayed to God that, when it was his time, to please take my father as quickly, quietly and as painlessly as possible. I didn't want to see him waste away to skin and bones in some awful hospital bed.

It's too soon to say if that prayer has been answered or not. We went to the V.A. this morning so my father could get an MRI, where the attendant slid my father into this tube, not unlike a casket, now that I think of it, and told him to remain still for 45 minutes.

I was convinced my father would blow it in some way, his world-renown temper would go code red and he'd storm out of the place, cursing and waving his cane in the air.

However, the attendant had a great bedside manner, unlike the idiot cleaning staff, who told us the MRI unit was closed just so we wouldn't walk on their freshly washed floor.

This fellow, in sharp contrast, was courteous and professional. He put my father at ease and when the test was over he gave my dad a smart salute. My father returned it with a slightly trembling hand.

We're supposed to get the results on Monday. Whether this will tell us everything or require additional testing, I don't know.

Let us pray.

Tossing and Turning

This has been a tough week, as I am still battling this cold or whatever the hell it is. I thought I was getting better, but then on Thursday at 2 a.m., I woke up and had terrible coughing fit, hacking like a three-pack-a-day smoker.

It felt like I was never going to stop, as I bounced up and down on the mattress, cursing all the way. I don't handle being sick very well, I'm afraid.

It's bad enough being sick on my own, but I feel like I can't help my dad when I'm like this. I'm worried I'll give him my germs and I just don't have the energy I need to take proper care of him.

As I was trying to get back to sleep I heard my father get up and walk around the house. I waited for him to go the bathroom and return to bed, but he kept walking, until he finally opened the door to my room.

"Robert?"

"Yes?"

"Fink opens at 10 o'clock."

Now that may sound like a code used by a spy in a sixties espionage flick, but I actually understood what my father was saying. Fink, was Mr. Fink, the neighborhood pharmacist, who had a drugstore at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 68th Street, less than a block from our house.

I say "had" because Mr. Fink left that place something like 35 years ago and is probably dead now. Yet my father spoke as if the man was still dispensing pills and advice to anyone who walked into his place.

I freaked, as I often do when my father goes off like that, and I assured him that Mr. Fink was no longer in business, and would he please go back to bed because I had to get up and go to work in a few hours.

It didn't occur to me until the next day that my father was trying to help me. He must have heard me coughing and, though his perceptions were off, he wanted me to get medicine and get better. He was still being a father in spite of all his problems; he was still trying to help his kid.

Way Back When

It's funny, but earlier that day I was thinking about Mr. Fink myself, as I came home from work and walked down 68th Street. I looked at the grocery story that occupies that place where Mr. Fink once had his drug store and wondered what happened to him.

Mr. Fink was part of a vanishing breed, a pharmacist who ran a pharmacy and nothing else. This wasn't a mega-mall chain store, like we have today, where they sell snow tires, greeting cards, laundry detergent, and paper clips, in addition to filling prescriptions.

No, Mr. Fink was an old school neighborhood druggist. His store had shelves that went to the ceiling, each one lined with dusty bottles, and he had one of those ladders on wheels that he pulled to wherever he had to go.

Mr. Fink--we always called him "Mr. Fink"--was a small balding man with glasses, who looked a bit like a turtle. He always a spotless white smock that told everyone he knew his business. People used to ask him for medical advice when they concerned about something, but not sure they wanted to go to a doctor.

One time I sprained my thumb playing football on the street and my hand swelled up. My mom took me up to the drug store so Mr. Fink could take a look at it. He suggested I bathe my hand in warm water and Epsom salts and try not to do too much for a couple days.

I remember walking into the store one time and Mr. Fink popped up from behind the counter like a jack-in-the-box. I suspect he was sleeping back there, and at the time I smirked about it.

But now that I'm an adult and a certified working stiff, I don't blame him for taking a break. If it's a slow day, there's no need to stand at attention for the full eight hours.

My brother Peter worked for Mr. Fink for a while, making deliveries on his bicycle. He used to go on about how cheap Mr. Fink was, but I can't recall any examples. One time my father sent up there and told me to say to Mr. Fink that "Fink means good bread."

I didn't know it at the time, but that was the slogan for the Fink Baking Company, an old New York business. But Mr. Fink got it, and he laughed politely. All I knew of the word "fink" is from what I heard in the gangster movies, where anyone who spoke to the cops "finked" or was a "fink" or, in extreme cases, he was a "rat-fink."

I used to wonder how Mr. Fink could stand having a name that conjured up such treachery, but he seemed to get by.

As I think of him, I'm reminded of the other small businesses in my neighborhood back when I was growing up--the hardware store on the next block, the butcher shop across the street, the jewelry store run by a hunchbacked man we called "the Hunchback," though not to his face, of course.

Here and Now

Maybe I'm on a nostalgia high, but it seems like my neighborhood back then was a lot like a small village, with all it's little shops and simple people. I was a child then, of course, back when my mother was still alive, my father was big and strong, and no one ever said the word "cancer."

Mr. Fink is gone, just like all those other stores, and while we do have a lot of local businesses mixed in with the chain store menace, none of those from my childhood have survived. And all of the men on this block from my father's generation have died.

My father had another accident today after we got home from the V.A. I made him change his underwear and put on a new diaper, and I'll have to give him a shower. We haven't told him about Dr. Pealman's concerns, as it would only confuse and upset him. God willing, there won't be anything to tell him.

Too bad Mr. Fink isn't around anymore. I could sure use his help right now.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sick Day


I never thought I'd be glad to be stood up on a date, but tonight was the exception.

It's miserable here in New York on this Earth Day, a cold, rainy, god-awful night and I'm sick as a hound.

Two days it was sunny and 80 degrees and now we're back in the middle of November. It's a great night to stay the hell home.

I've been feeling lousy for the last week and while I was starting to feel better, on Thursday I woke at 4:30 AM and I was suddenly sicker than ever. No fever, but congestion, upset stomach, the works.

I probably could have gone in to work and then chugged uptown to see the shrink, but I said screw it, I didn't feel like being one of the walking wounded.

Start Without Me

New York is a tough enough town to handle when you're at your best. When you're sick, I have a feeling word gets around real fast and everything you depend on goes on the fritz.

People are nastier, trains are even more crowded and even less unreliable than usual, and when you get to work you know you're going to get grief from a hundred different directions.

So I bailed. I sent my boss an e-mail, jumped back into the bed and let the world turn without me. I don't think the planet noticed my absence.

I didn't do hell of a lot with my free time. I slept, listened to Air America most of the date and then at night I watched a DVD of this rather bizarre movie called "Demonlover."

I had heard great things about this film, and when it didn't arrive from Netflix, I promptly declared it MIA and demanded another copy. Naturally, the first one show up the next day.

Of course, the upshot was I didn't like the damn movie. It seemed to have a lot of portent and posturing and precious little else. I could have watched it again, I suppose, to see if I missed something, but I was fed up. Whatever I missed couldn't possibly make up for what I saw.

Now during the last week or so I had been IM-ing this rather young woman I met through a dating group I belong to and we finally agreed to meet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for some drinks at the BAM saloon.

It's taking me a while, but I am getting smarter about dating. I made this one close to home, early in the evening and for drinks only--no sitting across the table from a total stranger for an entire dinner with absolutely nothing to say. I've been down that rabbit hole one time too many.

Now I've got this cold, virus, plague, whatever, and I'm not too anxious to go out. My head is stuffed, I'm not in a particularly good humor, and I'm starting to think this woman is not really into this. She backed off during one of our IM sessions (is there something wrong with the phone?) and it made me suspicious.

I toyed with the idea of cancelling the date myself, but I didn't want to be the one who threw the switch. Breaking a date over a cold sounded kind of wimpy and I figured it would be hard to get a rescheduled date after claiming a case of the sniffles.

So I do what I normally do in such situations: I prayed for God to intervene, make this woman break the date with me, and then I promised Him I will never ask for another favor again, even though He and I know that's a crock of horse hockey.

The day wears on and I wear down. I feel tired, achy and I every time I look out the window, the weather gets a few notches worse. I hate being sick, I've had a lot of problems of the years with my health, thanks to Epstein-Barr, so even a cold brings out the worst in me.

Back in the Day

When I was in the seventh grade I was going through a really bad period when I was sleeping all the time, when I had no energy, and the doctor, who was a first class dope, didn't know what was wrong with me.

He had this habit of turning to my parents during the examinations and asking, "how does he look to you?"

Later my father said if the guy had asked that question one more time, my dad was going give the doctor a bill for his services.

I remember at one point my mother looking at me and she seemed so frightened, I didn't know what was going on. I found out later she was terrified that I had some terminal disease; poor woman, always worrying about her children.

I missed so many school days that year. My grades suffered and I felt like a freak. I was being bullied by a fat ugly Irish kid in my class, but I didn't have the nerve to tell anyone, even when my parents asked me if there were any problems at school.

I still fantasize about skewering that bloated pig, wherever he may be, which just shows how much I need the shrink.

Yeah, that year really bit the big one, and my doctor finally decided to put in the hospital for a week, so I could get all the testing done in one setting.

This was the old Lutheran Medical Center on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. I remember going to the children's ward, this medieval-looking dump with peeling Disney characters painted on the world.

There was a man talking to a little boy in one of the beds, saying the kid's name over and over again, and not getting a response. It was so grim, so ugly, my parents took one look around and got me the hell out of there. I was put into an adult room a few days later with men in their sixties.

They were nice guys, and they did whatever they could to make me laugh. The names and faces are fading, but I remember how much they cared.

Oh, the few days I was crying and calling home every half hour. My brothers and sister came to visit me whenever they could and I was getting visitors twice a day. I see now just how lucky I was to have such great people caring for me.

I got more accustomed to being away from home, but there were tough times, too. I remember one of my friends had to get some kind of tube put down his throat and we could hear him gagging on the other side of his bed curtain.

Then another one of the old gentleman, sort of like the group jokester, had a stroke or some problem with his circulation. I can vaguely recall hearing him cry out in pain and then the next thing we knew he was dead.

Another man came into our ward, a huge Norwegian fellow, a former dockworker, I believe, and he looked so strong, I'm not sure what the hell was wrong with him. He said something to the doctors a pain in his arms "feeling like electricity."

And Lutheran Medical Center was the place where I had my first enema. Yes, you read right. It seems that all the dyes and potions they injected into me during all these tests had done a right proper hatchet job on my bowels to a point where they shut down and refused to resume work.

I will spare you the details. I will spare myself the details. Suffice it to say, it was a major under-taking, requiring a nurse to finally strap on the rubber gloves and make things happen, if you know I mean.

In fact, I had two enemas there, because I had to be cleaned out for some other test. Many things improve with repetition, but I'm here to tell you that enemas ain't one them.

Anyway, I finally got out of the hospital, on the very first Earth Day, so today is an anniversay of sorts. The doctors didn't find anything and they decided to call my condition "growing pains" and send me home.

Home Again

There was a lot of excitement about this Earth Day, though I was just happy to be back with my family. This was back when people cared about the environment, before all the right wing pundit-whores started in with the "environmentalist-whacko" lines. And thanks to Bush Abomination, clear air, clear water, and national forests are all on the chopping block.

I went on to have other health problems, including mononucleosis, Epstein-Barr/chronic fatigue. It's really made my life difficult, but I confess I didn't handle it well either. Every time I got sick, I would curse the fates and actually wish I were dead.

I did a lot of damage to myself and I know I hurt my mother with all this negativity. There are people with far worse conditions--some of them terminal--who handled their situations with a hell of a lot more dignity and grace than I ever did. There's not much I can do about that now, except do better going forward.

Now tonight, 36 oh my God years after that Earth Day, I went out into a monsoon to have drinks with a total stranger. I was just pulling into Pacific Street on the R train when my cell phone beeped out the message signal, causing myself and half the train to check our phones.

I went to the upstairs level, played the message, and learned my date couldn't get a babysitter and we would have to reschedule. My prayers had been answered, about as close to the wire as possible, and not before a useless subway ride, but I wasn't complaining.

I was estatic. I crossed over to the other platform, took the R train right back home and here I am typing away, safe from the elements and the ravings of inconsiderate twits.

I'm not offended, I'm not angry, I am relieved. I don't know what this woman's story, but I won't be contacting her anytime soon. Dating is always a gamble and I really believe that doing it online only increases the freak quotient, as you "meet" people to whom you would not give the time of day if you had talked to them in person.

So I came home, put on the tube and guzzled diet cola. It sucks to be sick, but I've been on a good streak recently, knock wood.

I got through the Christmas holiday for the first time in years without being sick and I haven't missed a workout at the gym in I don't know how long. Now I can rest up, let all these little dings in my body heal, I hope, and come back to work, writing, the gym and life in general in better shape than ever.

I just want to celebrate another day of living. I just want to celebrate Earth Day.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Resurrection


It's Easter Sunday today and it seems like just last week I was writing about New Year's Day. This year, like so many others, is flying by.

I walked by Our Lady of Angels Church this morning (yes, I know, I should walked in) and I remembered lining up outside the church with my classmates to attend Easter services.

We always wore new clothes that day and some kids would try and scuff up your brand new shoes, or "initiate them" as the guys liked to say.

I've been conducting some research amongst Catholic school survivors in an attempt to track one particular practice from my R.C. experience. (Sounds like a band, doesn't it?)

We were told that if we remained silent for three hours on Good Friday, from noon until three, the time Jesus spent on the cross, we would somehow get extra points with the Big Man upstairs.

Shut Up and Repent

It was one of the few things that wasn't mandatory, you-shall-burn-in-hell-for-all-eternity type of thing, but strictly a bonus deal. Today, as an adult, I strongly suspect a scam. I believe the teachers and the parents, seeing as there was no school on Good Friday, came up with a plan to keep the children quiet and give their parents a break. Hey, kid, Jesus wants you to clam up.

I have yet to find any other Catholics who know of this ritual. I know one year my poor sister tried to earn some brownie points for her immortal soul by keeping the silence and her three brothers, myself included, poked and harassed her for most of the alloted time in an effort to get her to crack and start talking.

I don't think we succeeded, but we had a lot of fun tormenting her, little bastards that we were. One year I actually tried to keep the silence myself, but I must confess I took a three hour tour of my neighborhood, away from friends and family, so I doubt if the All Mighty was all that impressed with me effort; but officially I did put in the time.

As a kid I didn't get terrbily excited about Easter. I colored eggs, got some new duds, and, most importantly, I got the chocolate bunnies and eggs. But it didn't compare with Christmas, which was wall-to-wall presents.

Still, there were some very good times. My mother used to mix the dye for coloring eggs on the night before, and it seemed like a complicated and potentially dangerous process, like this stuff might become radioactive if it wasn't mixed in just the right way.

My mom was always interested in these creative projects; she loved ceramics and making things out of discarded household doodads. I still find some of these things around the house, even though she's been gone close to four years now.

One year I picked some bizarre color for my Easter egg, gave it a frowning mug, and wrapped a tissue around one end to make it look like a hospital patient. I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I don't believe my mother was too pleased.

On Easter we usually had ham, one of my least favorite dishes, but for kids, the real meal was chocolate. Every year my mom would make Easter baskets for us, with the fake grass, chocolate eggs, jelly beans (never like them; they were like candy corn on Halloween) and a big rabbit right in the middle of everything waiting to be devoured.

I'd start nibbling away at the little eggs early in the day, snatching one every time I walked by my basket, popping it in my mouth and carefully ditching the tin foil wrapping while no one was watching.

My mom would catch me eventually and she'd give me the don't-ruin-your-appetite speech. I always managed to eat my dinner and then I'd had right back to the basket and start biting off the ears of the chocolate bunny.

One Easter, about 12 or 13 years ago, Casey, our family dog was very ill. He spent Easter pretty much on his side, weakly thumping his tail on the floor, an incredible and painful contrast to the ball of wild energy he had been as a puppy.

Forgive My Sins

The next morning, as I getting ready to leave, my father called my mom into the porch, where Casey had gone to sleep, and, as it turned out, never woke up. I heard my mother stifle a sob; there was so much emotion in the one sound because that poor woman loved that dog so much.

My father later praised Casey for going out like a gentleman, leaving this world on the day after the holiday, so as not to ruin Easter for his family. I still feel guilty about Casey, because I was very tough with him, cowardly, really. It was a bad part of my life when both my health and my career were in tatters, and I used to yell at him and hit him when he didn't obey me.

Casey was rowdy and wild, and never listened to you unless you were shouting. But it doesn't excuse my behavior, making him my whipping boy, and I put my treatment of Casey on that long list of sins for which I ask God's forgiveness. This is a time of rebirth and I want to step away from the past and one way of being a better human being is treating animals with kindness.

My mother kept making Easter baskets for us well into our adulthood. I remember one time, when I was living in Pennsylvania. I must have been 34, 35 years years old, and I came home for the holiday to find my mother had made yet another Easter basket for me.

By then, adult concerns about gaining weight and losing teeth had outstripped my love of chocolate--and plus it just felt silly at this age to be gnawing on a bunny's ears.

"Mom," I pleaded, "why are doing this? I'm an adult now."

"Oh, now," she said nonchalantly, "who's going to do this for you when I'm gone?"

I scoffed and scolded her for speaking about death, since I'm half-Italian and quite supersitious. You don't want to put the evil eye one yourself by even mentioning death, but I guess because my mother had been in ill health most of her life, some part of her knew she wouldn't be around that long.

The answer to her question, of course, is no one; no one is going to love me like she did, no one is going to think of me at all hours of the day and night, no one sure as hell is going to put together an Easter basket together for me.

I'm not trying to be negative. I know she wouldn't want me to be miserable, but the love a mother has for her children is like no other, and when it goes, there's absolutely nothing like it to fill the void.

I called my brother's ex-in laws today, "ex" since he divorced my (ex?) sister-in-law, to wish them a good holiday. I found Millie's number in our family phone book, written by my mother in a slightly trembling hand, and I felt like crying. People just don't vanish when they die; they leave so much behind and you find their mark in the strangest places.

Today we went to a local restaurant with the usual suspects, as my mother called the relatives. The attendees included myself, my dad, his sister, her son and daughter-in-law, my sister and my mom's sister. I wasn't feeling my best, having experienced one of my chronic fatigue episodes earlier this week, but I was able to get around.

Bunny Hop

The restaurant's a very nice Italian place, but I was struck by the fact that one of the day's specials was rabbit. Is it just me or does the idea of serving rabbit on Easter Sunday sound a little strange? I mean, are you cooking the Easter bunny? Poor guy delivers all those eggs, and you haul his sorry ass off to the kitchen. I decided to have the seafood pasta.

Well, we got through most of the day without incident, and I thought we were home free as we walked to my sister's car. My sister was ahead with my dad, holding his arm, when she tried to cross the street, but then changed her mind. My father yanked free of her grip, determined to prove something to somebody, and walked across the street, against traffic with cars coming in both directions.

He got to the halfway across when a car carrying what appeared to be your typical Brooklyn goombahs starting honking their horn. Of course, my father couldn't let that go, so he stood in the street yelling and waving his cane. The goombahs yelled back and my aunt began yelling at the goombahs. It was turning into a first-class firefight.

"You seen him," shouted the knuckle-dragging driver.

"Saw!" my aunt angrily yelled, actually attempting to correct this simian's grammar. I grabbed her, my sister grabbed the old man, and we got the hell out of there without any bloodshed.

For the record, I think the buttholes in the car should have waited, since they could see how old my father was, but what used to be called common decency when I was a kid is quite rare today.
It was a disturbing scene. My father has been a pretty hostile guy and age and Alzheimer's haven't helped any. It seems like there's an incident every time we go out with him, like the one we had on St. Patrick's Day, and that's why I want to lay low until Father's Day.

At the end of the evening, when it was just me and my sister, like it usually is when a holiday is over, we looked at a family photo album we keep in the living room. We saw my mom and dad, young and healthy, posing with their little children.

We watched our family grow, as each one of us was born, until I was arrived, making for a total of four. We saw our grandmother, we saw ourselves on vacation in the Poconos, unwrapping presents on Christmas, and just being kids. It was like taking a ride on a time machine.

This evening I spoke to my niece Kristin, who will be a freshman in college this year, something I still can't believe. And, speaking of old photos, we have a picture of her from another Easter, many years ago, when she was four or five years old.

She's sitting in a rocking chair in the living room smiling and clutching her basket of goodies. I can hear those years streaming by when I look at that picture and I wish now I had taken the time to put together an Easter basket for her.

I'm sure she would have been embarrassed getting such a childish gift now that she's a young woman, but I know my mom would have been very pleased indeed

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saving JFK


A few years ago I was looking through a junk drawer in the kitchen and I came across an old tie clip—remember those?

This particular one was also a campaign button for a certain politcal candidate named John F. Kennedy.

The round black and white image featured Kennedy’s singular profile, and, if you tilt it a little, it morphs to a slogan that reads “The Man for The 60’s.”

I can just picture my father wearing this tie clip four decades ago. He was never one to keep his feelings secret. My father has always loved the Kennedys. As an Irish Catholic who fought in World War II, it was pretty much mandatory that he love them. And, since we were his children, it was mandatory for us to love the Kennedys as well.

While America's royal family has been scorned, mocked, and ridiculed over the years, my father has always stood by them, like an old soldier standing guard long after the battle is over.

Growing up, we could never say "Kennedy," because if we did, my father would sternly correct us by saying "President Kennedy." And then we had to say it again, using the proper title. Or else.

I've only seen my father cry two or three times in my life, and the very first time occured when we were watching a TV special about JFK. I remember virtually nothing of the show; but I'll never forget seeing my father wiping his eyes as the credits rolled.

He spoke to Kennedy directly, saying something like, "Ah, John..." in a wavering voice. It was a little disturbing for a kid to see his dad cry. I didn't think adults did that sort of thing.

We had our share of Kennedy stories in my family. I remember my dad putting me on his shoulders at a Kennedy rally in Brooklyn--possibly Coney Island. I guess this was during the campaign, before JFK was elected. All I remember was looking out of a vast crowd of people.

My dad said that, in an effort to get closer to JFK, we somehow got caught up in the motorcade, right behind Kennedy's car, but that was so long ago it's only a legend to me, a story that was repeated over the years at family gatherings.

Later, when Bobby Kennedy spoke at a hospital in Brooklyn, my brother got incredibly close to the spot where the candidate was making his address. You could see him behind Bobby, as if my brother were one of the scheduled speakers. It was another story my family would tell for years.

And I saw Ted Kennedy in Times Square, in 1980 or '81. I was on a date and a man was walking a few feet in front of us. I knew it was somebody big because people coming in the opposite direction stopped and stared. He finally turned and we saw who it was, and then he walked into a club with his entourage.

And I blew it. The doorman at the place looked at me and my girlfriend and asked, "Kennedy party?" The guy was seriously asking us if we were part of Teddy's crew. We had a golden opportunity to walk into that place and rub elbows, chew the fat, shoot the breeze with a Kennedy! All I had to do was nod my head and turn left.

So, of course, Joe Numb Nuts here has to go and say, "why, no" and keep walking. Jesus, what a schmuck I was!

Now, granted, we probably would have been discovered in nothing flat and tossed out on our asses, but the story would have had a hell of a lot more punch to it.

Says You

My father never believed all the stories about JFK's sexual escapades--just flat out dismissed them, like a tail gunner shooting down enemy aircraft. You didn't argue about such crap; you just blew it out of the sky.

My siblings and I were indocrinated to love the Kennedys and I was arguing against the Marilyn Monore stories long after any sane person would have.

Gradually I was able to look at JFK's life more independently and I decided, well, he may have had a few flings aside from Jackie, but, hell, he was still a great president.

I'd argue with my father about all the smoke surrounding JFK's not-so-private life and suggested there could be a wee bit of fire to go with the vast haze that covered the sky, but, as a true believer, he would not hear of it.

You could have shown him film of JFK and Marilyn Monroe doing the wild thing in a Las Vegas hotel and it wouldn't have changed his mind. The pair of them could come back from the dead and tell their story themselves, for God sake's, and my father would just shake his head. You could almost envy such devotion.

The same thing with the conspiracy theories: my father wouldn't listen to them. It was Lee Harvey Oswald and no one else. I think he needed to believe that his dear president's killer had been caught and slain, on national television, no less. The idea of shadowy figures conspiring to murder JFK and getting away with it would be too much for him to bear. He needed the Big C--"closure."

"It makes me sick to think a man like John Kennedy could be killed by a slimey little son-of-a-bitch like that," he'd say.

He'd always argue with us, his children, who believed there was more to the story than what the Warren Commission was telling us. The rifle had a telescopic site on it, he'd say. It brings the target right up to you. No way Oswald could have missed. And the timing of the Jack Ruby shooting, it was too random to be planned.

My dad said some Dallas official--the postmaster, I think--wanted to interview Oswald at the last minute before the alleged assassin was going to be transported, and thus, delaying the move.

This, my father said, was proof that Ruby acted alone because no one could have timed the killing so perfectly. Again, it didn't matter what other evidence there was of a conspiracy. My dad had convicted Lee Harvey Oswald and the case was closed for all time in his mind.

I remember years later finding old yellowed copies of The New York Daily News that showed Ruby gunning down Oswald.

Ruby, seen only from behind, seems to be thrusting the weapon right into Oswald's gut, using it like a sword, and Oswald's face is frozen in agony as the bullet penetrates his body. If there is a hell, then this is what Oswald must be going through for eternity, unspeakable agony without the relief of death.

Where Were You?

People of a certain age will ask each other where were you when you heard about JFK's assassination. I was six years old and I remember hearing my mother burst into tears in our kitchen and damning the city of Dallas, as if the town itself had conspired to murder John Kennedy.

There are bits of memories of the funeral, the nation in mourning, and the great sadness around my house and, of course, at our Catholic school. My brother Jim once complained to me--not our father--that he thought he'd go home early after the news of Kennedy's death came out. But the teachers had other plans.

"They took us to church," he angrily told me, "and made us pray for the repose of his soul!"

I remember when the Kenndey half-dollar came out and my father, of course, had to have one. He treasured that coin as if it were the only one in existence, and then one day, he managed to drop the thing through the subway grating outside Our Lady of Angeles Catholic Church in Brooklyn.

This memory is vague, it's like tissue paper; as distant as a ship on the horizon. But it was a crisis in our family and my dad was determined to get his JFK coin back. I suppose it had some magic for him, like a sorcerer's wand or a aboriginal talisman and he would not--could not--let go of his modern saint's relic.

For some reason, we had a bamboo pole in our house--the famed 10-foot-pole that you wouldn't touch things with. I suspect it had something to do with the Cub Scouts, as my brothers and I were all members, and it was used for some kind of faux Indian ritual but I can't be sure.

All I know is that we had one and my father raced home to get it. We all piled into the car and rode down Fourth Avenue with that pole sticking out the back window, as if we were jousting with the cars in the opposite lane.

When we got to the subway grating, we chomped on some wads of Bazooka bubble gum, stuck it to the end of the pole and then my dad slipped it through the grating and tried to get his half-dollar. It was like one of those old arcade games where you move the crane amongst all the crap to get the prize you really want.

I'm happy to say my father's plan worked. He used that gum-bearing pole to retreive his JFK half-dollar and all was right with the world; until the next time, of course.

If he hadn't gotten his coin back, I'm sure he would have ripped off the grating and rappelled down the side of the shaft to get it. He probably would have had the MTA shut down the subways if that's what it took.

My memory of Bobby's death is a little clearer. My mother came into my room early one morning to tell me that Bobby had been shot. I remember going to school--Our Lady of Angels, of course,--and one kid name Phillip was saying Bobby would wind up as a vegetable.

The TV stations ran footage of Bobby's last speech, where he's telling the crowd about going on to another location and "let's win there, too." The Daily News ran this horrible photo of Bobby on the ground, looking up in shock.

We lost Bobby, too. Teddy, well, we know what happened there, and the next Kennedy generation doesn't have the same mythic pull that older crowd did. But perhaps I'm being unfair.

Yes, Camelot was pretty much a figment of our imaginations. I can't defend the castle with the same dedication as my father. I think JFK probably nailed everything in a skirt, probably had his hand in a couple of dirty deals, and I strongly suspect his death was the result of a conspiracy.

But I still feel that old time devotion pulling at me. And, if I speak too much in their defense, what about the Kennedy haters, the drooling psychos who go into the convulsions at the very mention of the name "Kennedy"? Are their opinions any more credible than mine? At least I admit my weakness.

The Kennedys are hardly saints, but, as a friend pointed out recently, at least they tried to give something back; unlike the Bushes who take with both hands and then demand more.

I finally wised up and stopped arguing with my dad about JFK. If he needed to think this man was some kind of supreme being, fine. If he needed to believe the killer had been caught and exterminated, there's no harm in it.

My father is so old and frail now it's hard to believe I ever sat on his shoulders. But if you say anything nasty about JFK in his presence, and he's able to hear you, my advice to you is to start running and don't look back because he'll be right behind you.

I'm going to keep that Kennedy tie clip in a safe place. I'm going to preserve it like a soldier's medal, because in many ways, that's just what it is.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Honey, Can I Change My Mind?

"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
-- Oscar Wilde

There was a comedy show in the 80's called Almost Live, a kind of low rent Saturday Night Live that originated from the Pacific Northwest.

It wasn't that good, frankly, but I recall one sketch about a couple who go through all the pain and misery of a relationship without ever meeting.

Instead, they keep missing each other on phone and leaving telephone messages.

Both parties misinterpret the messages and the hostility escalates, even though these people have not laid eyes on each other.

That bit comes to mind today after yet another fiasco on the dating front. Here's how it went:

Looking for Love

I saw a woman's photo on a dating site and I sent her an e-mail. We exchanged some funny e-mails and decided to speak over the phone. On Tuesday I called her cellphone number and we spoke for nearly two hours. Okay, so far so good. So we set up a date for Friday night.

Trying to act like a gentleman, I sent her an e-mail saying what a pleasure it was speaking with her and how I looked forward to seeing her in person. She wrote back saying the same thing and asked that I call her on Thursday night. I called and left a message.

She never got back to me. No need for panic, I thought, I can't expect her, or anyone else, to jump whenever I call. I was going to see her in less than 24 hours anyway.

I came home Friday night and there's a message on my phone. Not my cell, which I carry morning, noon and night, but my home phone. It's the woman, saying she can't make it, something's come up, and how am I for Saturday night?

I didn't handle it well, to put it mildly. I deliberately didn't call her back for a while so I wouldn't say something stupid. I called my shrink so I could calm down. And I thought I was okay.

But this twisted brain of mine was busy cooking up paranoid scenarios: Some ex-boyfriend called her. She's playing me a fool. I could've gone to at least three other events on a freaking Friday night, but I didn't and now she leaves me hanging.

So when I called her back to leave the message I was so obnoxious, I snarled "I've got plans for tomorrow; it's not going to work. I'll call you."

I felt like I accomplished something as I went out to the living room to watch a Seinfeld rerun. Of course, in that time, she called me, sounding so apologetic, saying her ex-husband had stuck her with their son for the weekend at the last minute and she really wanted to see me.

Later For Me

Well, I felt like a first class jerk and I immediately called her back. No luck. Her cellphone message center was full. I sent her an e-mail saying there was nothing to apoligize for, it could have easily been me backing out, given my father's condition.

The next morning I called her and said the only plans I had to swing by the Brooklyn Museum to check out the "First Saturday" event. She was more than welcome to join me, or we could do something else.

She didn't call me back Saturday, I haven't heard from her today and I realize she's rightfully written me off. There are plenty of other guys out there, and a lot of them won't act like a spoiled two-year-old if they don't get their way.

When I got this morning I realized how wrong I was, how stupidly I had acted. I wish she had called me on my cell at work; I wish she had said it was about her kid. I know she's a mother first and that the child comes before everything in her life.

I blew this thing before it even got started. I drove this woman off without even seeing her face-to-face. I don't know what the hell is wrong with me. I guess I've been out of the dating loop for so long I don't know how to act.

I did a similar thing a few years back, when I left an angry message for a woman I had dated a few times. There was a three-day weekend coming up and while I was hoping to take her out for a date, she only had time for lunch.

Well, my pathetic little ego couldn't handle that, so I ranted on her service about how I deserved more than just lunch. Oh yeah, and she dumped about a week later.

When will I learn? Why do I do these stupid things? Even if this lady from the other night was blowing me off, so what? A total stranger didn't keep an appointment--big deal. I like to think I'm easy to get along with, but incidents like this make me wonder.

Here's Your Head, What's Your Hurry?

In many ways, it's not even about her. It's about me, my happiness, and my strange ability to take umbrage at the worst possible times. I've let alleged "friends" walk all over me, but I get one wrong turn from someone who seemed nice, intelligent and attractive and I turn into Rambo. Nice going, doofus.

It's ironic that this is happening on the daylight savings weekend, where we monkey around with time, springing forward, falling back. Too bad that's just numbers on the clock; too bad we can't undo the foolish things we do.

So I'll have to forget about this one. I asked out another woman from the same site and we met today for coffee. Nice lady, very intelligent, and about a head taller than I am. She said she'd like to see me again, so I'll defintely call her. But that first one, Miss Friday Night, that's eating away at me.

The juke box in my mind has been playing a couple of songs by Tyrone Davis, a singer in the 70's. One is "Can I Change My Mind?" and the other is "Turn Back the Hands of Time." Do you sense a theme here?

No, I can't change my mind, not after the damage I've done. The early days of a relationshiop are like a jet in take-off, where any little thing is major and can send the whole thing crashing onto the runway.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn't have left that stupid, bonehead message. That's no longer an option. I won't insult you and declare I've learned my lesson, but I'm going to do my damnedest to get something positive out of this disaster.

At this point, there's not much else I can do.