Monday, February 26, 2007

Muck & Mire

I know it's winter and the weather is supposed to be bad, but this latest round of meteorlogical misery really blows.

We had some kind of snow and sleet combination hit the city last night and its turned the streets into a godawful mess, yet again.

I haven't been feeling well since last week, but I woke up this morning actually feeling worse than I did on Friday.

I was extremely pissed, since I had kept a low profile over the weekend to make sure my system was clear.

Apparently I've got some kind of Australian malady as it went away and then came back and whacked me upside the head. I felt cold, sick to my stomach, and useless. I thought about the fact that I'm turning 50 in May and I felt like a sick old man.
My solo performer class starts next week, I don't feel like going to the gym and that just makes me crankier. I felt like some mean old geezer who chases kids away from the front of his house.
I came out of the subway, hooked a left and walked up the street to Broadway. The snow-sleet-rain-crap combination turned the sidewalk into a mudslide and because it was so crowded at this time of the morning, I found myself walking single file up the street with Trinity Church on my left.

Look at this, I thought, schmucks in the muck.

Yes, I know, not the most positive frame of mind. But I was sick. I looked over to Trinity Church, saw the tomb stone for Robert Fulton, and wondered what the hell I was doing here.

The Academy Awards were on last night and I kept up my tradition of skipping the broadcast, but I had fancied myself a filmmaker and screenwriter at one time in my life and here I was several thousand light years away from my dream.
I remember studying about Robert Fulton in grade school and I liked the guy because we had the same name. There used to be a kid's show called Wonderama starring a guy named Sonny Fox and one time he tried some difficult shot on a pool table. The camera crew giggled as he fumbled with the cue stick and he glared at them.
"They laughed at Fulton," he said.

I wish Robert Fulton was around today. He was an artist and an engineer, a rare combination. If the guy can perfect the steamboat, I'm sure he could me straighten out my life.
But then he died at 49, the poor bastard, the same age as I am, so maybe I should seek my advice from someone closer to this mortal coil.

The rest of the day pretty much bit the big one and then I came home, feeling slightly better. Somebody named "Tina" contacted me via Yahoo's IM set-up for some live chat.

Ghastly Business

Yahoo has been getting on my nerves lately. The home page keeps giving me the temperature in Hong Kong, for God's sake. There's nothing better than to be freezing your tail off knowing people somewhere else are much more comfortable. Now I'm being contacted by total strangers.
I was busy working on my novel--several years in the making--but I thought I'd "listen" to Tina for a while.

It seems Tina is from Las Vegas, but is currently living in Nigeria. She's a nurse, she claims, who worked with some UN AIDS/HIV program and is pretty much a prisoner because her hotel has conviscated her passport over some monetary problem.

I know I'm stating the obvious here, but if you don't pay your bills you're bound to have monetary problems.

I asked Tina if her parents could help her out, but she told me--are you ready?--her parents "died in a ghastly car auto crash three years ago."

Did you notice that--ghastly auto crash? Just about every Nigerian bank transfer scam includes some wealthly individual with tons of money who died in a ghastly auto crash. What's going on over there? Do they know how to drive? Do they know any other adjectives besides "ghastly"?

When we got to the other ghastly word--"monetary"--I decided to bid Tina a good night. As a born New Yorker, I know when someone is about to put the arm on me. It starts with a sob story and it's supposed to end with me reaching for my checkbook. But not tonight, Tina.

I also got a call from Edith, my day's former night aide, and that cheered me up. Edith's a lovely Jamaican lady and she was calling to see how I was doing.

She had gotten a good look at my bachelor ways while she was taking care of my father so I guess she was checking to see if I hadn't starved to death or reverted to feasting on alley cats. No on both counts, but it was nice to hear from her nonetheless.

I guess it's hard letting go of the life we all knew when my father was alive. We were all working toward the same goal--my father's care--and when he died we had this tremendous gap in our lives.

I tell people it's like losing a job, but for Edith and Mary, my father's daytime aide, it's really true. They did lose a job.

Two of the network TV news shows did stories about taking care of your elderly parent and not too long ago I would have made a point of watching these programs. But now, what's the point?

I got a letter from the Alzheimer's Association inviting me to another meeting and again that strange, useless feeling came over me. I have no reason to go to such a meeting, God willing. But who I am if I'm not worrying about my father?

I went to one of their meetings a few years back and it was very helpful, especially when you heard from other people who were in the same boat.

One constant theme was the lack of help from other family members. No matter race, creed, or color they all said their relatives were not helping them take care of the aging parent. It's one disease that yet has to be cured.

I even managed to help one lady in the group when I mentioned my father got a home care aide through the Veterans Administration. She came up to me after the meeting and wanted to know about getting an aide for her husband, who was a World War II veteran like my dad.

I told her the little I knew and advised her to talk to the social worker at the VA hospital nearest to her home. She thanked me and said she would do that. I haven't seen her since and I can only she's doing well.

So I'm feeling a little better now and I'll be going to bed soon. I picked up some vitamins at the health food store on my aunt's recommendation, so we'll see if they can help me.

I stopped reading or listening to weather reports because I know it's going to be some version of lousy and the ghastly details don't really matter. But even if I have to walk through the mud, I'll try to rise above it anyway I can.

Robert Fulton would be proud of me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gun Crazy

Hey, do you like guns? Yeah, me, too.

Nothing says freedom more than having a .357 tucked under your armpit or carrying an AK-47 in the trunk of your car.

Guns are what made America great, and if you don't believe that, I'll shoot you.

Of course there are some drawbacks to this freedom, like, oh, I don't know, the occassional mass murder.

We had two of them here in the States not too long ago, one in Philadelphia and one in Utah, and you can bet some bleeding hearts will have the nerve to suggest outlawing guns--yet again.

The right-wing gun lovers were furious that the news media didn't mention that the Utah gunman--the one who shot up a shopping mall--was a Muslim.

Only, the news media did mention this fact and went on to report that the police saw no connection between his religion and his actions. But what does reality matter to your average gun nut?

Now these same neocon pistol-humpers had no problem with gun laws that allow psychotics to get their hands on lethal weapons. Oh, no, of course not. We all know that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

You see its our fault. The guns are just fine and the gunmakers are just nice, decent business people, so that's why the Republican congress wanted to protect them from lawsuits.

They were protecting everyone when they did that, not just the gun lobby that stuffed money into their pockets.

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

On Saturday two young women from Long Island, NY were gunned in Arizona down by a deranged man who blamed one of the women for turning his girlfriend against him.

The police have not determined how the killer--who had a history of mental problems--got his weapons, but then gun purchasers in Arizona do not need to register their firearms. And that's the way it should be.

One of the victims was a camp counselor in the Poconos, where I spent five years as a police report. It's a small, and rather sick, world after all.

Yeah, two beautiful young women with their whole lives in front of them were wiped off the face of the earth, countless friends and relatives are heart-broken, but, hell, that's the price you pay for freedom. What are you--some kind of sissy?

The news footage workplace shootings have taken a grim familiarity to them. You've got screaming ambulances, sobbing co-workers holding each other, cops in SWAT gear running in all directions.

You could probably run the same footage every time and very few people would notice. To paraphrase the great conservative icon Ronald Reagan, you've seen one massacre, you've seen them all.

New York City police officers have been making undercover buys in out-of-state gunshops, proving that gun store owners will sell to anybody as long as they have the money. But some brave Republican legislator called Mayor Michael Bloomberg a wimp when he complained out guns pouring into the city.

So get out there and start shooting. Shoot your neighbors, shoot your goldfish, shoot your dentist shoot your plants, shoot everything that moves and maybe a few things that don't.

Let's have more massacres, more senseless shootings, more grieving families. It's the American way, after all, how could you object to it?

Unless you're some kind of commie.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mask Appeal

There was a musical that came out in the 70's called "The Me Nobody Knows."

I never saw the show, but I always loved that title.

It seems to say that we all have this fabulous inner self that the rest of the world doesn't know about, that we're not just another drone in the army of working schmoes, but a unique, vibrant personality.

If only we could get that me to step out from behind the curtain.

It's been freezing here in New York for the longest time and it snowed earlier this week. I had to get out in front of the house with the shovel and spread that ice-melting crap so I won't be hit with a fine from the city or get whacked with a lawsuit by some Whiplash Willie who decides to take a dive in front of my crib.

There's slop all over the streets, particularly on the corners. The other night I came out of the subway and was heading to my local grocery store when I heard screaming from behind me.

"Mother fuck!"

I turned and saw this young man with a cellphone plastered to the side his head, stomping up and down on the sidewalk like a goose-stepping three-year-old. I figured our boy here was too busy running his mouth into the cellphone to notice the slush piled up around the corner of Fourth Avenue until it was too late.

I certainly don't wish anyone ill, but there is a price to pay for completely ignoring your surroundings.

It's been so cold lately that I've taken to wearing a mask when I go out. Only my eyes my visible when I put this thing on, so I look like a terrorist in search of a video camera.

It's not stylish, by any stretch of the imagination, but the mask keeps out the cold and when the temperature drops this low and the wind kicks up this high I don't give a damn what I look like.

I was wearing it the other night when I went to one of my bank's branches near City Hall. I was actually going through the revolving door when it occurred to me that walking into a bank with a ski mask on was probably not a good idea.

You never know how the security guards might interpret that kind of headgear, so I quickly ripped it off my head.

I had it on Thursday morning when I got off the train at Rector Street. I saw a young mother with a baby carriage waiting for the crowd to pass through before tackling the stairs with the kid.

I walked up and offered to help her carry the baby carriage and-wouldn't you know it?--she readily agreed. So I put my gym bag on my shoulder, grabbed one end of the baby carriage and up the stairs we went.

The woman had a beautiful baby boy who sat very quietly as we chugged upstairs. I hadn't taken off my mask yet, so perhaps he was too terrified to make a noise.

"I hope I'm not scaring him," I said.

We got to the top of the stairs, she thanked me and we went our separate ways. I realized that we could run into each other again some day and she would have know idea who I was. It bother me for a second, but you should not do good deeds in expectation of praise. What would the Green Hornet say?

The funny thing is that I used to fight my poor mother to hell and back to keep from wearing hats and long johns or any excess winter gear. Either I felt stupid or, in the case of long underwear, it was too uncomfortable.

Each morning in the winter my brother and I would walk up the block with our friends and the second we reached the funeral parlor at the corner and were out of sight of our parents--whoosh!--we'd pull off our goofy hats or pull down those retarded hoods...and freeze.

The long johns were a little tougher as I had to literally pass my mother's inspection to make sure I was in fact wearing the coarse, uncomfortable things beneath my Catholic school/Nazi uniform.

Thank You, Masked Man

I had this trick of putting the long johns in front of my stomach and then putting the pants on over them.

Once my mother inspected me and was satisfied I was safely attired, I went into the bathroom, pulled the long johns away, dumped them in my room and went off to school to be beaten, harassed, and tortured by deeply-disturbed women in black.

And then one day she caught me. My mother spotted something asmiss and pulled the long johns away.

"What is this?!" she shrieked and sent me back to my room to put the accursed underwear on for real. From then on the inspections were far more rigourous and I could only pray for spring.

I toyed with the idea of cutting to pieces off of the legs and slipping them over my ankles, so I can just show my mother my legs and let her believe I was obeying her command. But I never did it.

Yes, I was being ridiculous, but kids live by Fernando's rule that says it's better to look good than to feel good. And that hasn't changed much with adulthood. There was an old episode of Seinfeld when Kramer--before Michael Richards turned into KKKramer--goes to a party on a cold winter night wearing only a sport jacket.

When he's left freezing on a street corner and George or Jerry asks him why he's not wearing a winter coat, Kramer starts to whimper.

"I wanted to look good for the party!" he whines.

I know the feeling, but as I age, I'm starting to care less and less about looks and more about warmth.

I trudge through the streets of Manhattan, bundled up like a penquin, and I see young people wearing the skimpiest of jackets, men with shaved heads like my own, walking around with no hats--no hats? What's wrong with you idiots? Do you want the top of your head to turn blue? Christ, I sound like my mother.

And I'm wearing long underwear now, but only at night. The oil burner goes off in this house at night, so I put on my long johns, my father's pajamas, and sometimes his old nightcap and jump under a pile of blankets three-miles deep. I know Mom would be proud.

Last week, I finally made a decision about a class I've been meaning to take for over a year now. A comedy club called the People's Improv Theater is offering a class in how to do a one-person show.

The class caught my eye last year, but I didn't have the nerve or the time to sign up for it. Now that my dad is gone, another reminder about how short life is, I decided to sign up.

It took a while for me to actually do it. I would click onto the PIT web site every evening, read the description of the class and promise that I would definitely sign up for it. Tomorrow. I did this last year until one night I clicked on and saw the class had sold out.

My shrink calls this winning by losing and I see what he means. You could sit and your rear end and do nothing until the clock runs out and then whine about how you got short-changed. Yes, you did, but only by yourself.

So I signed up. The class cost $360, which I guess is reasonable. It starts March 5 and runs to the end of April, meeting on Monday nights from 7pm to 10pm. You work on a five-minute show which you then must perform at the end of the class.

The thought of performing in front of an audience, no matter how supportive, makes my stomach do cartwheel, but I think it's a good move, because if nothing else, I'll be doing something I've never done before.

I said this would be the year without fear, so here I go. The class could suck and I'll have wasted close to 400 bucks. But that's the risk you take when you go out into the cold, cruel world.

It'll be warmer by the time the class ends, the days will be longer, and maybe I'll know myself a little bit better. Maybe I'll find the me nobody knows.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Fire and Water

Two little girls died in a fire a few blocks from my home early Thursday morning.

Their names were Fatin Lazhir, 2, and Aya Khawatmi, 4, and they died when an electrical cord powering a space heater sparked a three-alarm inferno.

The girls were living in the same house where my sister had her first apartment nearly 30 years ago. And they died on the same day as Anna Nicole Smith.

I was in bed when this was going on, listening to Morning Edition on NPR. I heard sirens, but that's a common sound in New York, so I didn't pay much attention, even though they were pretty close.

It was about 5:30 a.m. and I just wanted to relax a little before getting up and starting what I knew would be a tough day at the office. This was the big retail day, when companies release their monthly same-store sales figures, and I had to be in an hour earlier to start pounding out the story.

The sirens eventually stopped, but helicopters kept buzzing on and on, right over my house as if we were being invaded, which I suppose we were. The noise was loud enough to drown out my radio and get me out of bed to peer out the window.

It still dark out, there was a full moon shining in the middle of the sky, with four helicopters floating around it like satellites. I knew then the fire had to be pretty big to attract all this attention and I was glad that I was no longer a police reporter.

It was--and still is--freezing cold here and I know all too well what it's like to cover a three-alarmer in sub-zero weather.

I got dressed, had breakfast, and headed off to work. I noticed a fire engine a few blocks up on Fifth Avenue and quickly forgot all about it until I call Mary, my father's former aide, and found out the fire had been a fatal.

The Daily News said the mother broke down at the scene and began speaking to the photos of the children in her cell phone as if they were still alive.

If I had been there, I would've had to write about that, tried to interview family members at the worst possible time of their lives, and quite possibly, I would have cursed and driven off like a criminal.

I always tried to be considerate when approaching a grieving family, but there's no good way of doing it, and you can't blame people for turning their rage on you.

Their funeral was held right around the corner from me at the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, in a place that used to be nightclub when I was a kid, until it burned to the ground. The newspaper ran a photo and a short story several pages back. The first eight pages were dedicated to Anna Nichole Smith.

On The Scene

People are here are still talking about the fire, though. One woman complained to me about the Arabs, how they cram people into apartments and don't take care of their buildings.

I was talking with the cashier at my butcher shop and the next man on line just pushed into the conversation and the cashier began talking to him. It was like passing a baton at a relay race.

"Is that the place on 73rd Street?" I heard him ask as I walked out of the store.

I went by the house this afternoon. The top floors were burned out and covered with boards and the front of the building was roped off by yellow emergency tape. God knows I've seen plenty of that stuff in my life.

The front steps were covered with flowers, candles, and dolls. It all seemed so futile, but when faced with such a horror, gestures are all we have.

I walked by the building quickly, went halfway up the block, then crossed the street and came back down for another look.

I had remnants of that old reporter dread as walked around the building, convinced someone would come charging out and yell out me for being a heartless scumbag. It's like a prizefighter who still hears bells long after he's left the ring.

Fire scenes are always brutal. You've got trucks and firefighters all over the place, cops trying to keep people away, terrified residents huddled in a cluster, usually in their pyjamas.

You've got reporters trying to interview everyone at once and not get bounced from the scene by one of the firemen. And, if the blaze is big enough, you'll have TV news helicopters flying overhead.

The air stinks of burning wood and all sorts of materials, a smell that will instantly seep into your clothing so that hours later some schmuck will walk up to you and say, "Gee, you smell like a fire." You got me there, Einstein.

I've covered some spectacular blazes in my time. The biggest was the Salvation Army thrift center in East Stroudsburg, Pa. The place was the size of an airplane hanger and filled with old clothes and furniture.

The fire broke out in the wiring on a Saturday night and had plenty of time to build strength before anyone knew what was going on. By then it was much too late. The place burned like something out of a Seventies disaster movie.

Then there was gas station in E-burg that caught fire and I could see the flames from the highway as I drove to the scene. A church in Stroudsburg blew up due to a gas leak, but I don't think there was much of a fire. Just one huge blast.

I froze my butt off that night. I was talking to a woman from one of the Scranton TV stations and we could not believe how cold it was. She gave me a tip about using a pencil instead of a pen in the extreme cold because the ink might freeze up.

Most of the fires I wrote about were over by the time I showed up, having done their damage at night in some distant part of the county. I covered a fire that destroyed motel in Mount Pocono and then went back a few days later when the handyman, whom everyone thought was out of town, was actually dead and covered in ashes.

I was there when a state trooper picked up the blackened body and put it on the dead man's cot.

"Back in bed," the cop said with a professional kind of sarcasm.

They put the corpse in a body bag, everyone reached for a handle and there was one left. The coroner, who was a nice guy, looked at me and just said, "Rob?"

So I grabbed the last handle and helped carry the poor guy out to the ambulance. It was one of the things that I consider weird, but necessary.

We had a fire on Senator Street when I was a kid, just a few houses down and across the street. The house belonged to Mrs. Smith, your standard-issue mean old lady, who used to yell at kids if they came anywhere near her house.

At that time, my brothers and I were always fighting with my sister, and we were under the impression the house belonged to one of her friends. I started to tease her--remember I was quite young--and my mother got in my face big time.

"Fire is a very terrible thing for us," she said, glaring me into silence.

Yes, it is. And we saw that just a few blocks from here, while I was worried about my tough day of the office.

I was looking up Arabic phrases on line, hoping to find something that could describe how I felt about the loss of these two little girls. This was the best I could do:Laila sa'eda wa ahlaam ladida.

Good night and sweet dreams. What else can you say?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Football Hero

Superbowl Sunday doesn't seem to be a good day for me.

Years ago, I got dumped by a woman on this, the biggest day in football, and today I got stood up by another one. It could be a coincidence, but I think for the next Superbowl I'm going to hide in my attic.

I'm not broken up about today's washout--honestly. I arranged to have this woman meet me at a Moroccan in my neighborhood that I've been meeting to try for over a year.

So it was a short walk to the place and when she didn't show, I treated myself to a delicious meal. Then I went home and looked at the game for a while. I usually watch the game for the ads, and they pretty much sucked this year.

When Prince (say,what?) started his half-time show, complete with the Aunt Jemima head scarf, I knew it was time to turn off the tube.

When I got up this morning, I had a feeling I should call this woman to confirm the dinner. I just had a feeling she'd blow me off.

But I didn't want to call. It sounds desperate--oh, please, do you still want to see me?--and I don't think adults need to be told more than once that something is going to happen. If you can't keep a simple appointment then I don't want to date you.

I was the only customer in the place, so I felt like royalty. The waiter told me that people from Bay Ridge rarely come to this place, preferring to eat at the pizza parlors in the neighborhood.

People come up from Park Slope, he told me, Manhattan--Yoko Ono ate there during the holidays--and Japan, because the place is listed in a guide for Japanese tourists.

I waited 20 minutes before calling this woman and she gave me a line of crap about not having my number (check the cell phone, honey), not having time to send me an e-mail, (is your house on fire?) and ending up with the old my-car-broke-down routine, which is the adult version of the dog ate my homework.

"Can we do this next week?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, lying like a rug. "I'll give you a call..."

...when hell freezes over. Which is close to happening, given the temperatures in New York recently.

The restaurant's TV was playing a benefit concert for Montserrat, which apparently suffered some kind of volcanic disturbance. There a lot of heavyweights there, including Sting, Phil Collins, and Eric Clapton.

Eric sang his acoustic version of "Layla" and the line "make the best of a bad situation" jumped out at me. Taking that as a sign, I ordered myself some dinner.

The only reason I didn't throw away this jerk's card was because another woman's number is on the back.

I had met this one at the Brooklyn Museum's First Saturday shindig last night. It was tango night and I had a blast, asking five women to dance and getting four dances and one phone number. Not a bad night.

I tell you, the lack of fear was even more pleasurable than actually meeting a potential girlfriend. So many times I'd go to dances and haunt the sidelines while everybody was out on the dance floor having a great time.

That almost happened last night, but I remembered my vow to make '07 the year without fear, so I marched out to that dance floor and just started asking woman to tango with me.

The Forbidden Dance of Love

The first woman I danced with was from Rumania, but now lives in Queens. We had fun dancing, but I could tell by the body lanuage--she didn't want to interlock fingers--that it wasn't going to happen.

I also recognized this woman's friend. I was racking my brains while I tangoed, which ain't easy, by the way, until I remembered that I had met the friend about a year ago at another First Saturday. (I think that was a tango night, too.)

This was the boob who had danced with me, engaged in a great conversation for a half-hour, gave me her phone number, and then told me she had a boyfriend when I called.

I was going to let it go, but I reminded her who I was and engaged in some chit-chat. No wisecracks, but certainly no attempt at further contact. Fool me once and then bite me.

I danced with another woman from Hungary--what's with the Eastern European dames?--who could barely speak English. She suggest we get pointers from this nearby elderly couple who clearly had the tango down.

They were reluctant at first, but then they started making some suggestions, stressing that both dancers have to work together, to feel the movement. We thanked them, danced a little more, and then the Hungarian and I went out separate ways.

By this time, I was feeling so confident, I walked up to one woman and threw out my arms.

"Now's your chance to dance with me!" I said.

Obnoxious, I know, but she went for it and we started to dance. She told me her name was Sasha--what's going on here?--and that she had to leave soon. No problem, kid. A few more turns and we were history.

I was making my last loop around the floor when I made contact with a mature lady with glasses sitting on the sidelines. I smiled and beckoned her out to the floor and we cut a rug.

"Where do you live?" I asked.

"Bethlehem, Pa." She said.

That ain't exactly Cobble Hill. She told me her daughter lives in Park Slope and that she was in for a visit. I told her that I once lived in Stroudsburg, and, small freaking world, she had lived there, too. She told me she takes the bus to New York a couple of times a month.

"So you can have dinner with me some night?" I asked, though I really wasn't asking.

"Yes, I can," she said.

So she wrote her number on Miss Stand-Up's Card. She said she was one of the few people in the world without a cell phone, and I assured her that this was fine with me. We hugged and she left with her daughter.

I don't like the distance factor, but I'll probably give her a call. I'm betting she'll be able to come in from two states away and not stand me up, unlike another twit I could mention.

So I overcame my fear last night and that felt very good indeed. And that's why today's Superbowl washout doesn't bother me too much. There are plenty of eligible receivers out there.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Winter of Our Discontent

I was taking in the mail this afternoon when I could have sworn I heard a bird chirping.

It's freezing here in New York now and it's not going to warm up any time soon, so I figured it was something mechanical, non-living, that just sounded like a bird.

Plus I was wearing a hood and a bulky winter coat that restricted my movements so much I didn't bloody feel like looking up.

But the noise persisted, so I finally cranked my head up and saw an honest-to-God bird sitting on the bare limbs of the tree that stands in front of my house. (I call it "my tree" but I'm not quite sure how that works in New York.)

I don't know much about birds, but it wasn't a pigeon. He was small and black and I think he had a red bill, but he took off the second I turned my head, like a sneak preview of spring. That's all you get, buddy. Now go back to freezing your ass off.

Last night I had dinner with my friend, Xiaojing, who recently moved here from China, and I tried to explain Groundhog's Day to her.

"So if the groundhog sees his shadow," I said, "we'll have six more weeks of winter. And if he doesn't, winter will be shorter."

She looked at me.

"How can they tell if he sees his shadow?"

"I'm not sure," I replied.

"How do they know what he's thinking?" She asked. "He's an animal."

I had no idea. Come to think of it, the whole concept is pretty stupid. The groundhog did not see his shadow yesterday and the little bastard better be right or I'll go out to Pennsylvania and turn him inside out.

"Well..." I was grasping at thin air. "I guess it's kind of a tradition."

I changed the subject to the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, which she hadn't seen. I handled that a little better and we both agreed that Murray's character doesn't escape his fate of repeating the same day over and over until he learns how to love and care for others. Maybe there's a message here?

Birthday Girls

I learned this week that Mary, my late father's aid, and 70's pin-up Farrah Fawcett are both 60 years old. Mary invited me to her birthday party last Sunday; I haven't heard anything from Farrah.

It was nice seeing Mary again, even though my father is gone. She has a nice family, all crammed into her apartment, and I got another chance to eat some of her great cooking--I even got a CARE package to take with me.

Mary's grandson was there. I don't think he's a year old and naturally she's crazy about him. She used to bring him over to cheer up and my dad and she told me whenever she showed the baby's picture to my dad, he would smile broadly and say "that's my buddy."

Shortly before he went into the hospital, Mary showed him the baby's picture again and my dad said, "that's my grandson." Close enough.

Mary gave my sister and I a picture of my dad with her grandson. Looking at the photo, I see how old and frail he really was and my sister pointed out that he can smile with half his face, a result of mini-strokes he suffered last year.

I had to fight tears at one point when Mary told us how my father would ask her about my mom, believing she was still alive, when in fact she died nearly five years ago. I've had that experience, too, and it's nothing short of heart-breaking when I had to tell him she was gone.

"His face would get so sad when I told him," Mary said.

At one point, Mary's daughter began playing with the baby, and my sister joined in, and the little guy was laughing his butt off. Everyone was feeling good, just watching that kid go nuts. And this stray thought went through my head.

Boy, I thought, I fucked up.

Of course it was just me trying to be miserable. But it was tough, watching that happy family enjoying that beautiful child, knowing I have no family of own.

There are tons of excuses, from my health problems and the fact I could barely hold on to a job, but I think I was afraid of making that step into being a father and a husband.

I'm going to be 50 in May, so I don't think there's much chance of this happening for me, but I'm hoping that I learn to live with my choices, conscious or subconscious, and not poison my life with regret.

That's the Story

I also sent a short story to a magazine this week. This was the first time I submitted a story in God knows how many years and it felt pretty good.

When I first wanted to write, back in my 20's, I used to send stories out all the time. And this was old school submission--stamps, return envelope and double postage. These young whippersnappers today have no idea what it was like.

I wrote crime stories, which would probably embarrass the hell out of me today, and I never published one. I got close with a men's magazine called Swank, but the editor finally decided against it.

"I know you must be disappointed..." his letter said.

You could say that, yes. I had planned my whole career around the story and when it came back I was crushed.

I hadn't the magazine until after I sent the story--typical young writer stunt--and when I did I couldn't believe my eyes. The "fiction" was just filth.

The one I read was some lame private eye story that existed only for the raunchy sex scenes. The editor had wanted some sex in my story, but I couldn't deliver this type of bilge.

The latest story's about a guy in Brooklyn who's crowding 50 and can't deal with all the change going on in his life. I don't know where it came from...

I e-mailed it with just hours to go under the magazine's deadline and got back an auto-response thanking me for my submission. It was a squeaker, since I was coming home from the company holiday/10th anniversary party and I had to get thing edited and out before midnight.

The party was okay, but I really wasn't into it. The waiters who were serving up the food were rocking gently to the music and I realized they were having a better time than I was.

There was a video crew taping the whole event and when that bright light burned over me during the head guy's speech, I toyed with the idea of flipping the bird toward the camera.

I decided against it, though, as it wouldn't do much for my longevity at the place. I'm going to use it for another story.

I was stranded among strangers during the cocktail hour, so I think that's why I was so cranky. Everyone seemed to be deep in conversation but me.

So dinner was served, I got hold of some of my favorite people in the place and we all sat down at the same table. We had a good time and then I split around 8:30 pm.

The next morning I got some ideas about how I could improve the story I had submitted, but that's how it always goes.

At least I made a promise to myself and I kept it. You can tinker and perfect something all your life and then the next thing you know you're in the old age home with nothing to show for it.

I think that's one of the reasons I never got married. I wanted to wait for the perfect moment--when I had just the right job in just the right location, where all the planets were aligned in just the right way to shower me with good karma.

Which, of course, never happened. Perfectionism can be a curse, it can keep you from facing the world and leave you in a fantasy land where you're almost ready to show your stuff but you never quite make it.

Back in the 80's, a good friend of mine decided to leave New York. He had lived in a hellhole on the lower East Side, back before the yuppies took over, and he was tired of walking around in terror every time the sun went down.

A lifelong bachelor, he drove over to the bridge and nailed a job and a new apartment in Jersey in the same afternoon. He told he would miss some aspects of city life, but his mind was made up.

"You always give up something," he said matter-of-factly.

Yes, you do, and if you don't learn this lesson, you doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over. Now, excuse me while I get ready for Farrah's party.