Sunday, May 28, 2006

Patron Saint of The ATM


I made history on Saturday when I went from civilian to sainthood in under two minutes.

It all started when I walked into my local Chase branch to do my weekly banking chores and saw a brand new Nokia cell phone sitting on the lobby table.

I turned to ask the two people on the ATM's if either one of them owned the cell phones and got a pair of negative responses.

I'm looking at this phone, and it was a beaut, all flat and shiny and much nicer than mine, and I'm thinking do I leave it there in hopes the owner realizes it's missing and returns?

Do I call one of the numbers on the memory list and relay the news of the missing phone to a total stranger--from a total stranger?

"Maybe you should turn it in to the bank," suggested an elderly lady at one of the ATM's.

Ring-A-Ding-Ding

Well, there's that. I scooped up the phone and went into the bank, where a young man with a hairdo just like mine buzzed me into the back office. I handed over the phone and he seemed genuinely surprised at my efforts to reunite the cell phone with its owner.

"Thank you," he said. "You're a good person."

Oh, think nothing of it. As a good Catholic boy, I just wanted to do the right thing and avoid a one-way ticket to hell. I went back to the lobby and began chatting with the little old lady when a man came rushing in and began looking frantically all over the lobby.

"Are you looking for a cell phone?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"I just turned it in," I said, pointing to the back office.

He thanked me, squeezed my shoulder and went into the bank. A young Middle Eastern man who had been using one of the ATM's told me what a good man I was, saying that he had lost his cell phone once and it had all his important business numbers programmed into it.

Many of us don't realize how much important information we carry around on our hips or in our purses. Cell phones are great, unless you lose them. Or unless some barf bag starts screaming into one of them while you're trying to relax. Then they're a headache.

Now I had yet to finish my own banking business when I began telling the elderly lady about the time I had my umbrella stolen in this very same bank.

It was some time last year, a miserable rainy day. I was out of work and depressed and I came into the bank to transfer some money into my checking account.

I put my umbrella down for a minute, just a goddamn minute, and went inside the bank. When I came back, the umbrella was gone and the only thing left was a patch of rainwater, like a body outline in a murder mystery.

I complained to two people in the bank, one right after they other, and though they were sympathetic, they said there was nothing they could do and I walked home in the rain, grumbling and cursing all the way.

"It was such a cheap umbrella," I told the elderly lady. "I would have given it to the guy if he asked for it."

I was about to deposit my check when I saw an official looking piece of paper on the floor. For a second I thought it was mine, so I reached down, picked it up, and found I was holding someone's check for $584.

You Again?

Oy vey, what's going on here? Is this a bank or a lost and found? The elderly lady and I exchanged astonished looks and then back into the bank I go. The same hairless man buzzes me in and I approach him with the check in my hand.

"You're not going to believe this," I said, handing him the check.

"Oh, my God," he said. "You're a saint!"

Well, that's pushing it a little, but I did walk out of there feeling pretty good. I heard the young man telling his co-workers of my good deeds, and I figured I'd better get out of there before I found Jimmy Hoffa's remains in the wastepaper basket.

I've been telling all my friends and family about this. Mary, my father's homecare aide, said people are rushing around too much and I think she's right. So many times I find myself race-walking some place, huffing and puffing, even on my day off. With that kind of urgency, you're bound to forget something.

My aunt congratulated me and railed against the state of the world. She said I should have gotten a reward, but I really don't want that. You shouldn't do things in hopes of getting a payoff. We've got enough of that going on already.

No, I think a nice portrait of me hanging over the bank's door will do just nicely.

ATM's have been notorious homeless hangouts for many years. I remember being a cop reporter in Stroudsburg, Pa. and every now and then on a cold winter night, one of the night duty guys would be dispatched to a local bank to roust a homeless man out of the ATM.

These particular ATM's were the suburban kind, plexiglass booths located in the middle of parking lots, all lit up in the dead of night, so that anyone inside them must have looked like a captured insect in an alien naturalist's collection.

In New York, and, I would imagine other big cities, homeless people plant themselves inside the ATM lobbies and act as doormen (door people?) for the patrons. They rarely ask for money, but they usually have a coffee cup in their hands as you head out. You can guess the rest.

During the winter, a couple of the local homeless/drunkard types, converge in a bank lobby on 69th Street and when you walk by at night you can see them waving their arms in the air as they argue and debate the issues of the day.

At my bank's branch on 9th Street in Park Slope, this old black man used to sing gospel songs while you did your banking. I always slipped him a buck, as he literally sang for his supper.

I do a lot of complaining about my life, my luck, or the lack thereof. I go through a lot of "why me's" in the course a day and I get on my own case when I believe I should be better off. But I thank God I've never had to seek shelter in an ATM and I pray with all my heart it'll never come to that.

There you are, so close to so much money and not one cent of it is yours. You have to beg for loose change or the occassional single and hope nobody kicks you out into the cold.

I'm Off Duty

I went out that evening to catch a movie in Manhattan, and I fell into a heavy sleep while riding the subway home. I woke up just as the train opened its doors for my station. I staggered to my feet like a drunk and walked to the station stairs, only half-awake.

I saw a young woman pulling a large suitcase toward the stairs. I wasn't in the mood, but I asked her if she wanted me to carry it up the stairs, and, damn it, she pulled a fast one on me and said yes. I hate when that happens.

It's like when I offer women my seat on a crowded subway. Hell, they're not supposed to take the damn thing from me; they're just supposed to smile, say thanks, and remain standing so I feel good about myself without having to actually move my ass.

Anyway, I lug this thing up the steps and it weighs a freaking ton. I don't know what this woman was carrying, but it felt like it artillery shells. I got to the first level of the station, all too aware that there was yet another flight to go before we reached the outside world.

The woman, and an older lady I hadn't noticed before--the mother, perhaps-- both thanked me and as they took the suitcase. I guess I should have taken it up the next level, but even a saint gets tired.

And today while walking around Park Slope I realized I had lost something very dear to me. It was one of my mother's funeral mass cards, which I always carry with me.

One side bears the image of St. Martin de Porres, my grandmother's patron saint, and the other has a poem about motherhood.

"You only have one mother," it begins, "Patient, kind and true. No other friend in the world will be the same to you..."

I get a lot of strength from this card and I often hold in my hand when I'm troubled, or kiss it when I want to thank God for helping me out of a tight spot. The words are so simple, perhaps even mawkish, but they sum up my mother's devotion to her family.

When I found it was missing I became very upset. It doesn't speak well of my to lose something so important, and even though the funeral home must have printed up 100 of these laminated cards, I didn't like the idea of losing something with my mother's name on it. What kind of saint would be so careless?

I went back to one of the bars where I had been drinking, which was probably part of the problem, but there was no sign of it. As I walked back to the train station, watching the sun go down behind the 9th Street subway bridge, I got philosophical about the missing mass card.

Maybe it's good in a way that I lost the card. Maybe someone who really needs it will find it and take comfort from those words, find peace in the image of St. Martin.

Perhaps some homeless person seeking shelter in an ATM will hold it tightly in his hand when things look bad for him, the way I do when I'm upset, and find strength inside himself he never thought he had.

I felt like I was spreading my mother's goodness around the world, the way a gardner plants seeds. Maybe something beautiful will grow in someone's heart when they read that mass card.

I sincerely hope so.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What Hath God Wrought?


Less than an hour left to my 49th birthday and I'm feeling pretty good.

It was a quiet affair--just me, my dad, and my sister.

Mary, my dad's aide, made a delicious pasta dinner, my sister got the cake and sang "Happy Birthday"--my dad didn't seem able to join in--and then we watched "Derailed" on DVD.

And my brother from San Francisco called just as the movie ended and I got to talk with him, my sister-in-law and Victoria, my crazy, beautiful niece.

Yes it was a real wild night on the town. Well, perhaps not, but it was just what I needed.

I couldn't help but think of my mom when I looked at the cake's candles flickering in front of me, I could almost hear her singing to me.

And my dad used to wave his arms like a conductor as everyone joined in. God, such a long time ago and yet it's still so fresh in my mind.

Let me pause here to thank God for letting me get this far. A lot of people haven't, so I consider myself very lucky.

I want to say thanks to all of you who wished me a happy today. We like to pretend we don't care about such things, that birthdays are for children, but I know that's not true and I was very touched by all the good wishes.

And I've had so many people tell I don't look 49, I'm starting to believe it myself. Maybe that is a typo on my birth certificate.

I worked from home today, and while I would have preferred the day off, this was the next best thing.

No dragging back and forth on the subway, no dealing with office cooler gossip, forcing myself to make conversation with the other cube rats, no fighting the crowds at lunch time. Damn, I've got do this more often.

I was just about to finish my last story of the day when my father came into my room with his hat and jacket on.

"I have to go up to Sam's," he said, referring to the store up the block.

I was stunned. The story was giving me headaches, I was pushing up against deadline, and my father, who has Alzheimer's and a propensity to get lost if he ventures too far, wants to go out of the house by himself.

"Why?"

"I have to buy something."

I figured that much out already, but since Mary and I do all the shopping, I didn't see any reason for him to go, unless it was to buy junk food.

"What? What do you have to buy?"

I started getting antsy, as I usually do when I'm getting hit from all directions. I had to finish the damn story, my sister's coming over for dinner, I'm another year older, and now this? Oh, come on...

"I can't let you go by yourself," I said. "Please, just tell me what you have to buy."

My father made a face, clearly reluctant to confess. Finally, he gave in.

"I have to get a birthday card," he said."

I almost laughed. At 84, with all his problems, he was still trying to be a father to me. I assured him it wasn't necessary, that I didn't need a card at my age, and that the dinner would be enough for me.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

He turned to leave, then looked back at me.

"Why don't you want me to go out by myself?"

I was about to tell him the truth, that he gets lost easily, that the last time he went to get a haircut on his own, he wound up 20 blocks from our house and would have been halfway to Wyoming if someone hadn't have stopped him and then called me at home. But there was no need to bring that up.

"I'm worried about the drivers around here," I said, which is also true. "They're all nuts."

That Was Then

I dug up this photo of myself at my fifth birthday party. My grandmother, Clorinda Ferrari, is behind me. May 24 was her birthday, too. I didn't realize until now, but I was a pretty cute kid.

"You were," Mary said when I showed her the photo, "with hair."

I happen I like pretty cute without the hair, but that's just my opinion.

My grandmother came here from Italy after her husband, who set up a shoe repair business in Brooklyn, had gotten enough money to bring her and my Aunt Mary, who died at 18, over from the old country.

He had earned enough money for first class tickets, but my grandmother's friends or family in Italy told her to go steerage and use the money she saved in the New World.

Well, she listened to these people, and steerage turned out to be such a hell hole that she got sick and when she got to Ellis Island, the immigration authorities would not her leave.

She stayed in the infirmary there for close to two weeks, I think. Years later, I went to Ellis Island as a tourist and checked out the infirmary.

I tried to imagine my grandmother here, a young woman, with little or no English, sick and frightened. It brought tears to my eyes. I know nothing of her kind of suffering and sacrifice. Today people enter and leave America like it's a Motel Six, but in her day it was a one-way trip and you left an entire world behind.

That photo was taken in 1962, on this very day, and as I do every year, I clicked on to the History Channel Web site to see the other great events that happened on this day.

On this day in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was opened and called "eighth wonder of the world." I remember the 100th anniversary of the bridge, which featured a fabulous fireworks show. I watched in on TV, knowing the crowds would be out of control, and I pretended it was all in my honor.

On this day in 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland reading "What Hath God Wrought?" It's a line from Numbers 23:23.

My mother liked this expression, as she said it whenever we mentioned Morse or anything relating to Morse Code. Admittedly Morse didn't come up too often in normal conversation, but when it did, my mother would state it all the drama and majesty she could come up with. What Hath God Wrought?

On this day in 1899, the first public parking garage in the United States was established in Boston.

On this day in 1941, Germany's largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.

There were other grim events on this day, but I think I'll skip those. Suffice it to say it was a pretty jumping date and I glad I've got this many to my name. So no whining, no complaining, no tearing myself down. This was a great day.

What hath God wrought? A great deal. And I'm going to do some wroughting of my own.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Forty-Niner


Like they say in Florida, I want a recount.

This Wednesday, I will turn 49. Forty-nine Oh-sweet-Jesus-tell-me-I'm-dreaming years old. Where is the justice in that?

How could I, of all people, be one year short of being five decades old? I'm so young and full of life, I can't be heading into the AARP corral. There must be some mistake.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. My life is nowhere near where I wanted it to be, where I dreamed it would be, but I go though that routine most days of the week. I getting tired of hearing this myself.

All my idols are over the hill or retired. Handsome young actors of my youth are now playing somebody's dad on TV. And I see Paul McCartney has gone from adorable young Beatle to foolish old man, losing his much-too-young wife in front of the whole world.

Oh, I believe in yesterday. It's just today that's causing me fits.

In grammar school, the whole class used to sing "Happy Birthday" to you on your special day, one of the few decent memories I have from Catholic School.

Some of the companies I worked out used to bring you a cake and sing to you as well, though I believe the employees put these events together, not management. I even had a surprise party thrown for me while I was living in Pennslvania. That felt pretty good.

I like to tell people that I was born in 1957, the year the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and that I would prefer to believe the two events are not related.

And somewhere is this house I have one of the cards announcing my birth. It's written with this art deco kind of typeface and there's an image of man in a top hat and tails pointing up at a sign with his cane.

"Mr.& Mrs. James Lenihan Present Their Fourth Attraction," the card reads. Inside the card contains the various details of my weight and size. Here, I am world.

Me & Grandma

I share the May 24th birth date with several people, including Bob Dylan, Patti LaBell, the Brooklyn Bridge and Queen Victoria. I also share a birthday with grandmother, Clorinda Ferrari, who left this world about 38 years ago, before I had really had a chance to know her.

She was a piece of work, grandama was. She moved here from Italy in the early 20th Century, reuniting with her husband in the New World after an 8-year separation. My grandfather had come over here earlier to start his shoe repair business and he finally got enough money to bring his wife over.

Grandma was an old lady by the time I came along, with a heavy Italian accent, and slow, measured walk. I used to play this game with her, where I'd extend my butt, tempting her to give it a whack. I usually got away unscathed.

She hated loud noises, telling the TV to shut up instead of just turning it town. She once gave the driver of my favorite ice cream truck a hard time because he kept ringing the bell. I was mortified.

My grandmother was not fond of my father, to put it mildly, and during a very bad time in my parents' marriage she was the first to figure out why my father was disappearing at the strangest times.

"Somebody else's cooking is better," she'd say.

She would stand up to my father, when everybody else was in the family was terrified of the bastard. I know it's not right to speak of my father is this way, given his current condition, but this is how it was in my family.

I remember the night my grandmother died. She had been sick for a few days and it was a Friday night. I was watching "Star Trek" (I still remember the actual episode) and I remember actually praying to God that my parents wouldn't call the doctor because it disrupt my TV viewing.

What a selfish little bastard I was. But I was just a kid. I didnt' know that in a few hours my grandmother would die. I remember hearing her cry "Oh, God help me!" from her bedroom; and then there were ambulance attendants and cops in our house.

When my oldest brother Jim walked into our bedroom, I asked him how grandma was and his voice cracked as he said, "she's dead."

Oh, my brothers and I cried so hard. We went into her bedroom and my father insisted we kiss our grandmother goodbye. I just pecked her on the forehead, noticing the skin was cold, but my brother would not do it. He just stood in the doorway, crying and shaking his head back and forth.

Grandma is gone a long time now, but I treasure the memories I have of her. For the longest after she died, my mother would start crying at the mention of her name. I didn't know what she was going through until she herself died, and know I'm the one doing the crying.

Life Goes On

My mom always made us feel great on our birthdays. She'd invite all the kids over to our house and run the party herself.

She didn't hire a clown, she didn't rent a hall, and she didn't pay someone to organize the party for her. She was appalled when she found out people actually did this.

I guess she just loved her children too much to let some hired guns come in and run the birthday show.

One year I kept winning all the games--Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Musical Chairs, I was racking up the prizes and my mother was getting upset. She was afraid the other kids would think it was a fix.

As I got older and fond birthdays less enchanting, she told me of the "Birthday Blues," where you expect that special day to be some incredible event and when it falls short, as it pretty has to, you feel let down. Leave it to my mother to have such insight.

I recall one birthday, while I was a cop reporter in PA. I went to work and I knew some state troopers were doing a traffic stop on one of the backroads nearby. I went out there, hung out and shot the breeze with them. I mentioned it was my birthday and got good wishes and handshakes.

I wonder what the hell was going on in my life back then that I wound up at this location on my birthday. But these guys were my friends.

This year I think I'm going to take off on my birthday. It's in the middle of the week, but still, the idea of doing my job on the very day I was born, it doesn't seem right.

The other day I was IM-ing with a co-worker, who, upon hearing of my age, typed me a simple question: What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Jesus, that one caught me off-guard. It underscores the fact that no one lives forever, that time goes by so quickly, and that you should not put things off if you really want to do them.

So, here I am, unpublished writer, an unproduced screenwriter. I dreamed of living in L.A. and traveling to exotic places, but here I am, living in my family's house, just me and my dad, while everything seems to change around us.

I think on my birthday I will give myself a break. For one day, I will not put myself down, moan about my fate or bad luck, shake my fist at the heavens or bang my head against the wall over all the things that might have been.

This year, I'm going to enjoy my birthday. I'm thank God for giving me another year and do my damnedest to make the new one even better. If I really want to tear myself down, I can always wait until the next day.

I got an early start on the celebrating on Friday when I went out with a group of people from a Brooklyn-based social club.

Most of the group's events happen in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and other chic neighorhoods--which is fine by me--but this get-together was being held in my own neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
I was the oldest one in the group, which tends to happen a lot at this time of my life. I went from kid to geezer in the wink of an eye.

Anway, I planned to go for just an hour or so and then head home to the comforting idiocy of late night TV, but I wound up drinking and dancing (!) to 1 a.m. I hadn't done something like this in years and it was fabulous. Too bad the music was so goddamn loud. And you can't understand a word they're saying...

On the way home I ran to a neighbor who was also coming home late, only he was just getting in from his night job at the Post Office.

"Can you believe it, Jerry?" I called across the street. "A man of my age out at this time of night?"

"Hey," he said, "you've got to do something different sometime."

You certainly do. Here's looking at me, kid.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day



There's a sign leaning up against a tree near my mother's grave that reads:

"If tears could build a stairway, and memories could build a lane, I would walk all the way to heaven. And bring you home again."

I see it every time I go to the cemetery and every time I cry.

The logical side of me says it's just some mawkish bit of poetry, but the emotional side, which calls the shots in my psyche, doesn't want to hear it, because that's exactly how I feel.

I saw that sign again today when my sister and I went to the cemetery to pay our respects on Mother's Day, and again I cried.

I've got an ocean full of tears and a stack of memories 100 stories high, but I haven't quite figured out how to make that trip to Heaven.

I Remember When Rock Was Young

This is the fourth Mother's Day that we've gone out to Resurrection Cememtery, way at the end of Staten Island. It's a long trip and since my brother wasn't in town to give us a ride, we had to take car service. My dad, who has problems of his own, was too tired to make the trip so we went in his place.

I'll be honest: I didn't want to go. I don't believe standing over a plot of earth honors the dead, not when can keep that person in your heart, call up the fond memories any time you choose.

And I think I'm also a little angry, because when my mother was first buried there, both my father and my sister told me that got a sense of peace standing by my mother's headstone.

I went there expecting too much, I guess, because I felt nothing but loss. Nothing like a grave to underscore the fact that someone is gone forever.

My sister was determined to go, however, and I was determined not to let her go alone. The day before we celebrated her birthday by going to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and having dinner at a nearby French restaurant.

Today we got together to make the trip over the bridge, our Arab driver--pretty much all the car service drivers in our neighborhood are Arab--took us to the wrong cemetery, so my sister had to guide him in like a pilot flying through a thick fog.

Our driver had an Elton John tape going on the stereo, so on the way to the cemetery and back we were regaled with such gems as "Crocodile Rock," "Levon," and "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting." Whoever said silence is golden was really on to something.

I think one of the things I miss most about my mother is her singing. It seemed that's she started her day, creating a family soundtrack. It was all old tunes, like "Ship ahoy, ship ahoy, who wants to marry a sailor boy."

One time while making breakfast, she broke into "The Music Goes Round and Round," tapping her foot and doing a few steps while she moved around the kitchen.

"You push the first valve down, the music goes round and a-round, and it comes out here..."

Often, she would start a song, forget the lyrics and then just start singing, "la, la, la" to fill in the spaces. When I was a kid I got it into my head that whatever came out of the TV was brand new, never been seen or heard before.

So I was pretty surprised one night while I was watching a singer on Ed Sullivan or one of the other variety shows, going through his act and my mother, who was at the kitchen sink doing the dishes started singing along with him.

I thought my mother must have been psychic. How else could she know what the words to the song were?

And then there was her famous rendition of "Animal Crackers" where she would puff up her cheeks like Shirley Temple.

It was such cruel irony that my mother suffered from lung disease and eventually had to have a tube inserted in her throat to stay alive. For the last years of her life, she never sang a note.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

While we were there, we met Mr. Kelly, an elderly man whose wife is buried right next to my mother. Over the years we've gotten to know him and his family.

I remember a few years ago when his daughter visited the grave on the first Mother's Day after her mom die, and she went to pieces, gripping the headstone and wailing, "Ma, Ma!"

The various first anniversaries after a loved one's death are always the worst: the first Christmas, their first birthday, your first birthday. These days come rolling around even though the one you love is gone. You get used to eventually, or at least you try to, but those first couple of dates, boy, they are painful.

Mr. Kelly is a very nice man and I'm glad his wife is close to my mom. He's in kind of widower's club at the cemetery, where men in his age group, most of whom come to the cemetary every single day, come together to talk and support each other.

"It's a strange life," he said of this lonely time.

When he asked about our father we had to tell him the truth, that my father had Alzheimer's and could no longer drive. He shrugged, not terribly surprised, and asked us to say hello for him.
My family has moved out of one community--those who celebrate with their living mothers--into the one that goes to the cemetery on Mother's Day, who celebrate with memories.

I wish I could have put my membership off a lot longer, but so many of my friends lost their moms when they were in the 20's that I feel like I have no right to complain.

I was going through my file of Mother's Day memories, recalling how as kids, we used to make our mother's homemade greeting cards in school; we'd draw roses in crayone and pour on the glitter.

In the Cub Scouts we'd make this awful "creations" used dried macaroni sprayed painted gold. My mother was always happy to get these things no matter how ridiculous they looked.

I recall one year, I think I was in kindergarten, when I was so excited about the Mother's Day gift I was making that I couldn't wait. I said--quite seriously now--that I would tell what the gift was going to be, but she had to promise to instantly forget and be surprised on Mother's Day.

She agreed to it and kept up her end of the bargain. Years later I told her that story and we laughed about it.

"What a nutty kid," she said.

I moved to Pennsylvania in 1988 and it just worked out that I had to go up there on Mother's Day. I was so frightened and so nervous as I made the trip up to Stroudsburg.

My parents and my sister came with me and we had dinner together at the Beaver House on West Main Street. So instead of being about my mother, the day was all about me and my new job. I felt so guilty.

I stopped by the Pocono Record to introduce myself to my new boss and I found out I would be working an evening shift, starting at 2 p.m. and going to 10 p.m.

Wish You Were Here

For some reason I was devasted, having assumed I'd be working a 9-5'er. When I related this information to my loved ones, my mother gave me a great piece of advice:

"Deal with it," she said.

When my parents left me at the Deer Head Inn in Deleware Water Gap where I was staying, I was so miserable and lonely I wanted to run back to

I think on our last Mother's Day together, my sister and I were visiting my mom at the Saint Elizabeth Ann's rehab center. She was very weak, but we talking to her about coming home some day.

I remember looking out the door of her room as we talked and thinking anybody walking by hearing us would have said these people are delusional; there's no way that woman will ever be able to come. But we couldn't let go of that hope.

Sometimes I recall the fights I had with my mother and I feel so awful; I wish I could go back in time and erase those terrible fights, take back the hurtful things I said.

I probably should just sew my lips shut and listen, really listen to her advice and words of wisdom. It's look late for that now, so all I can do is ask for her forgiveness.

I was talking to my aunt, my mom's sister, the other day about my mother's obsession with our health. I told how every time we watched the movie "Singin' in the Rain," and it came to Gene Kelly's famous dance in the downpour, my mother would shake her head and say, "he's going to catch his death of cold." My aunt got a big laugh out of that story and it felt good to share it.

I'm glad I made the trip out to the cemetery today. Just because something is difficult or inconvenient doesn't mean you can walk away from it. If I just sat around on my butt all day today, I know I'd feel guilty about it.

Yes, now I'm in the memory club. No more homemade cards, now more macaroni models. I try not to look at the rows of Mother's Day cards whenever I go into the stores at this time of the year.

I have memories, I have my tears, but still way of getting her back from Heaven. But I can bring her back any time I want, any time I feel the need just by opening up my heart. It's not the same as having her here, but it's the best I, or anyone else in our club can do.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spin Cycle


It's late, almost midnight; I should be in bed, but I've got one more wash to hang.

I can hear the washing machine, down in the basement, going through its cycles.

My father had another one of his accidents today, and I thought I had washed all the stained clothes, until I looked into the bathtub and found a soiled t-shirt that could not wait until tomorrow. So, once more, into the wash.

I see now that it's a Shania Twain t-shirt and I should probably resist the urge to make a joke about not knowing shit from Shania, but what the hell? It's late and I'm tired.

It turns out that my father may have cancer after all. Apparently I didn't quiet grasp what his doctor told me about the MRI.

I thought that test had given my father a clean bill of health, but all it did was show there was no cancer outside of his colon. Today Dr. Pearlman tells me that there is a 70% chance my father has colon cancer.

How did I get that one wrong? Maybe I was too desperate for good news that I blocked the little details. I don't know. But now we're thinking about having my father get a colonoscopy to verify the presence of cancer.

I'm personally against it, as the preparation and the test itself is quite stressful and, even if they find something, the doctors aren't going to perform surgery on an 84-year-old man with dementia. So why put him through this misery?

Dr. Pealman spelled it out for me: my father is terminally ill. He has Alzheimer's , which is a fatal disease, any way you look at it. Cutting him open or putting him through rigorous tests to treat other ailments is not advisable or worth the effort.

And it can actually shorten his life. We put off some kind of heart test a year ago when we learned the test could cause a stroke, and my father is still here (knock wood.)

But the doctor is leaning toward having my father get the colonscopy because there may be something they can treat that's not too invasive and would stop the uncontrolled bowel movements. It's a quality of life issue, he said, and we should try and address it.

Agreed. I'll have to take the day off from work so I can sign the necessary paperwork before my father gets the test, and if the worst happens, there's not much we can do is pray and keep my dad as comfortable as possible.

Not of this Earth

I spend a lot of time with that washing machine. It's been in the family for so long, I couldn't even guess how old it is. We got it when I was a kid, had a neighhorhood handiman tinker with it about 20 years ago, and other than that, it's been pretty much operating on its own. That's craftsmanship, I guess.

I've cursed at the thing, kicked it in the side when it butchered my clothes, or spread a smear of lint all over my dark clothes. But the thing kept going and, to be honest, it's kept me out of laundymats all these years.

The other day I got this brainstorm I'd wash three pairs of pants early in the morning, thus avoiding the chore when I got home that night and saving money on dry-cleaning. I noticed some lint on my pants during the first cycle, so I put them through again and this time they were absolutely covered in pulp.

I had forgotten to remove this little pad I carry around me at all times in case I get struck by a great idea. Well, it would have been a great idea to remove that pad from my pocket before dumping my clothes into the washing machine but it's a little late now. Hope I didn't have too many great ideas on that pad.

The irony, of course, is that I used to get mad at my father because he'd always leave tissues in his pants pocket, I'd forget to check and the next thing you know, all the clothes were covered in white bits of paper. It's impossible to remove and the only thing you can do is put the clothes through another cycle, and maybe a third, to get them clean.

So now I screwed up. I went upstairs put my father's pancakes in the microwave, forgetting to remove the plastic wrapping from the plate. Luckily, the plastic didn't melt around the pancakes, but like that business with the wash, I can't believe I did that.

I took my pants to my cleaner, failing officially to save time or money, and then I crossed the street on the way to the subway station, completely unaware that the traffic light was red. Luckily there were no cars coming or I'd be writing this from the intensive care unit. Once again, I can't believe I did that.

I became convinced I had poisoned my father with toxic Saran wrap fumes and I called Mary, his aide, babbling about checking to see if he was okay. As I heard myself leaving the message I realized how insane I sounded.

There's a concept in meditation about being present. I truly believe I was present during that morning, just not on this earth. My mind was somewhere around Pluto while my body was in Brooklyn trying to do the wash.

I had a lot on mind, including the fact that my sister wanted to borrow $4,000 from me so she could pay off her credit card bill and prove to the management of a new apartment building that she is a fine, solvent citizen.

Clearly, she has to get out of her current crib, as the Albanians who live all around her have turned the place into a zoo. But four yards from yours truly? Gosh, all that money can make for some bad feeling.

Well, I'm happy to say that my sister got the apartment. And I've even happier to say she's going to give me back my check, as they did not check her credit card bill.

I pretended that I had forgotten all about it, but I've never been much of an actor. And now that it's just gone past midnight, I realize it is officially my sister's birthday. Think I'll wait before I call her.

The washing machine has just stopped, so that's my cue to get down there, hang that shirt and get to bed. I get the feeling both me and the washing machine are going to be getting quite a workout over the next few months.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Loathe Thy Neighbor


They seemed like nice people.

But then they always do, don't they?

A little more than a year ago, we rented the upstairs apartment of our two-family house to what we thought was a decent family.

We needed the money to pay for my father's homecare aide and renting the apartment was the only way to do it.

The wife loved the apartment; it was so big and homey. The husband (boyfriend, sperm donator, I honestly don't know) works for the MTA and seemed like a hard-working family man.

Oh, Jesus, we sure called that one wrong. The first day they moved in, the wife (mistress, whore, psychopath, I honestly don't know) asked if they could pay the rent in two monthly installments instead one payment the way normal people do. Since they were all moved in, my sister and I thought, what the hell?

Meet The Anti-Christs

It turns out "hell" is the operative word for this bunch, as in "living hell."

Within the first month, the wife's mother shows up at the house, has a bad reaction to her diabetes medication and starts to fall. She grabs the knob on the garden fence, which breaks, and she hits the ground breaking her arm.

Next thing I know, some barracuda lawyer from Staten Island sends us a letter demanding compensation for our "negligence." We let the crowd upstairs know that if this thing goes through, they can find another place to live.

The wife does a Weeping Willie routine and swears up and down her mother is not going to sue. We give it over to our insurance company who tells the shyster to drop dead. End of that story.

But from there it only got worse.

All these people do is fight. They never talk when they can scream and they never miss a chance to slam doors, stomp around on the floor and tear down the stairs as if they've been shot from a cannon (oh, if only!).

Over the summer, the butthole teen-age son has his friends over for all-nighters while "the parents" are away. Mary, my dad's aide, called the cops on the bastards at least twice while I was out for the evening. And when they're not fighting, you wait for the fight you know is coming to begin.

Last week was the kicker, though.

It was a Friday. I came home tired, still trying to shake a nasty cold, and I decided I'd just sit in front of the idiot box and watch "Austin Powers: Goldmember" on Channel Five. Yes, it's not "Masterpiece Theater" but I was pretty beat.

Well, the animals start yelling at each other. I'm pretty much used to this, so I wasn't paying much attention. But gradually I notice that this particular bout is going on longer than the usual brawls, and it's getting progressively louder.

I hear shouting in the stairwell and then there's shouting in front of the house. I get up and peer out the little diamond-shaped window on my front door and I see the wife, holding a suitcase, trying to walk away, while the teen-age butthole son has got his arms around her, saying, "don't go, don't go," over and over.

So while Austin Powers is taking on Dr. Evil, Mini-Me, and Fat Bastard, I'm watching my tenants take on each other. Yeah, baby!

The husband is standing on the front stoop saying, "let her go, Bobby, let her go," while the couple's three-year-old daughter, a beautiful little girl, is running back and forth between her parents like a duck in a shooting gallery, crying "mommy, daddy, mommy, daddy..."

For this alone, for causing this innocent child all that pain, these bastards should be horse-whipped at high noon on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library in Grand Army Plaza.

The wife's eyes are rolling out of her and finally the son let's her go. Then it seems like it's going to settle down, but a few moments later, the husband throws the butthole son out of the house, saying, "get out, all of you get out of my fucking life!" Hmmm, my thoughts exactly...

It was like an episode of "Cops" happening on my front stoop. I've never lived in a trailer park, but I think it's got to be a lot like living with these animals.

House of Pain

I lived in that upstairs apartment until I was about five, and then we moved downstairs to live with my grandmother and began renting out the second floor. We've had six families and only one was decent. The rest were drug addicts, dirt bags, liars and crooks.

There was family where the son, who was my age, was routinely brought home by a cop car in the dead of night. He eventually croaked, I believe, but not before my father went to war with the whole bunch of them.

I seem to recall the woman of the house, Mrs. Condon, telling my father to drop dead during a heated phone argument and hanging up on him. Big mistake. My father charged down to the basement and yanked her phone lines out of the wall.

There was another bunch who also fought morning, new and night and then lit out of here one Saturday morning. I don't know if they ripped us off or not, but, again, we were glad to see them go.

And each time, when the relationship soured, and we wondered how in the hell did we ever rent to this crew, my parents would say, "they seemed nice."

The last bunch was a Vietnamese family who just that apartment something fierce. They wrote on the walls in crayon (!); they never cleaned the stove for all the years they were up there, and they fought us tooth and nail when we tried to bring in prospective tenants.

I got into a shouting match with the son one evening and that was about as close as I've ever come to punching somebody in a long while--but I didn't.

My father was in better shape two years ago and he had taken to love the Vietnamese people. Now my father's love, like his hatred, is unconditional an unchanging. If he likes you, that's it for life. You could be Jack the Ripper, practice your craft right over his head, toss body parts out into the alley, my dad won't say a bad word about you.

We had an Irish family in there one time and my father hated them so much, he took them to small claims court after they moved out. And he won. The son of the family was shouting at my father after the judge made his ruling, yelling, "how could you lie like that?" I could have told the guy, save your strength, pal, your anger is like ice cream to my father.

But the Vietnamese bunch, when they left with that apartment in appalling condition, my father gave them their deposit back. I could have strangled him.

Now we've got this crew who make the last pack of losers look like the Vanderbilts. The wife came down on Friday, the one-week anniversary of the big brawl, to meekly apologize for the fiasco.

I heard myself, "oh, that's all right," but I don't know why, because that's not how I feel.

Feel Free to Drop Dead

It isn't all right that you behave this way, it is not remotely all right that you hold your nauseating family battles in front of my father's house so the entire block has to look at you. Yet again, it's my desperate need to smooth things over, to avoid confrontation. It's a sickness, I know.

We had fights in my family, but we had enough decency to keep them within the four walls of our home. I realize now how noisy we were, how our fights must have go up through the floorboards, out into the alley, and I wish I could go back in time and undo all these battles.

These bums, however, have no sense of shame. Tonight, while we were watching "Jarhead" on DVD, the mother and her middle daughter had one of their many battles, to a point where the scenes of Desert Storm depicted in the movie started to look pretty good.

The irony here is that a local grocery store owner we've known for years recommended these people. I could strangle him for this grief he's brought into our house, but he is the very same guy who introduced us to Mary, my dad's aide and a walking gift from God. I guess we'll call it even.

Right now we're in it for the money. When my dad dies, we're going to sell the house and, as God is my judge, I will never be a landlord as long as I live.

It is not worth the misery and in New York City, at least, it is a losing battle. Talk to homeowners and you'll hear are horror stories of devil tenants blowing off their rent for six months while the landlord fights in court. No, thank you.

I could complain about the noise, but it's like trying to tell a pig not to roll around in its own filth. They wouldn't understand and they would miss the slop something fierce.

Tonight my sister broached the idea of maybe taking the upstairs bunch to court and kicking them out. I don't like the idea of protracted legal battles and losing that steady income, but I know I can't take much more of this nonsense. The next few weeks will be telling.

I just don't get it. They seemed like nice people...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Breaking News


I am happy to report that my father does not have colon cancer.

I found out this morning after I got out of the shower and found my father's doctor had left me a message. He said the MRI that my father had on Saturday came out negative--no cancer.

I can't say how relieved I was to hear that message. I had been sweating this out since last week when Dr. Pearlman first expressed his concerns about my father's health.

I told my family to brace themselves for some bad news--I told everyone but my father, actually--so this morning I made the same round of phone calls to pass on the good news.

And I want to thank my blogging buddies for their kindess and support in this scary couple of days. It is most appreciated, my friends, more than I can ever say.

I came home tonight and found my dad had another "accident" in the bathroom and, to make matters worse, he tried to clean it up himself.

I found myself cursing and complaining about having to put up with too much shit--literally and otherwise--and then I rememberd my prayers to St. Martin, to spare my dad from cancer. And then I shup up and continued cleaning.

My dad's going to need a shower, but he says he's tried, so I decided to let George, his aide from the V.A. do the job tomorrow morning when he gets in.

I guess I'm shirking my duties tonight, but I'm kind of beat. At least I'll be able to sleep better tonight.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Lest We Forget...


It's three years today since "Mission Accomplished"....How many American soldiers have died, have many have been wounded, maimed, and crippled for life? How many innocent Iraqis have died for this "War on Terror"?

I remember when President Top Gun came strutting across the deck of that aircraft carrier, the infamous sign high above his head. It was all fake, all a lie, and the American people lapped it up.

If there is anyone who still believes this monkey told us the truth about weapons of mass destruction, they are in dire need of electro-shock therapy.

The Bush loyalists are really a cult, who will believe anything their lord and master tells them and turn on anyone who tells them otherwise.

It is a sick, sick age in which we live. I tell people that my America is dead, that the neocons and the Christian fundamentalist psychos have taken over, but I'm feeling more aggressive lately. I'm thinking it's time we took our country back from these bastards.

Of course the fact that Bush is sinking in the polls makes me angrier. I knew this guy was lying way back when he started this disaster. I didn't fall for the flag-waving and the drum-beating. People said anti-war protestors were traitors (though no one ever had the nerver to say that to my face.)

But now that our soldiers are getting killed, now that this thing has spun completely out of control, everyone hates Bush. Screw you, pal. Where were you when we needed you? Where were you during the '04 election?

So, it's been three years with no end in sight. There's not much more to be said; just count the bodies and pray for a clean sweep of the Rat-publicans in November. And then pray for impeachment.

Until that time keep your head low. If you've got loved ones over there, my heart goes out to you. But the truth is, we all have loved ones over there. And we all should be demanded that they be sent home.

Now some reading matter...