Friday, March 30, 2007
I keep asking the wrong question.
Whenever I stop to look at how the years have flown by, I always ask, "where did the time go?"
Of course, what I mean to ask is "what did I do with the time when I had it?"
I asked that question twice this week when I became reacquainted with two of the biggest movies of my life.
First, I read a news story about how the Post Office is preparing a commemorative stamp for Star Wars to mark the film's 30th--no, I'm not kidding--30th anniversary.
A stamp for Star Wars? You issue stamps for dead people, not for movies that just came out...30 years ago.
I was still reeling from that shock when I sat down and slipped Rocky Balboa into the DVD player tonight. Rocky is a year older than Star Wars. My God, where did the time--? No, I'm not going to ask again.
I'm still not feeling well and I thought I'd get a few laughs watching Sylvester Stallone dredge up this character one more time. But instead I found myself crying at several scenes--like when Stallone visits Adrian's grave or when Paulie admits how ashamed he was for being so mean to his sister.
It's impossible not to think of my mother during the graveyard scenes. And I think of her when I watched Paulie break down, too, because I thought of the times I had argued with my mother and I felt so guilty.
Rocky and Paulie are really two halves of one person. Rocky is impossibly good-natured and Paulie is mean enough to be three people. But you put them together and you have one complex person who is both a saint and a sinner...like most of us.
I told my buddy Hank about my emotional response to Stallone's latest epic. He questioned me like Joe Friday on the old Dragnet show.
"You cried at Rocky?" he asked.
"Yes," I confessed.
There was a slight pause.
"That's pretty bad," he said.
Yeah, I guess. Maybe I should change the names to protect the neurotic.
I remember seeing the first Rocky movie, back in the autumn of 1976. I was a sophomore at Hunter College and I went to a sneak preview at a theater on East 60th Street. I forget the name of the theater, but I think it's still standing, unlike a lot of things from my past.
I saw with a guy from my film class, whom I'll call Ted. He was one of those people I called a friend, even though I really didn't care for him all that much. If I've learned nothing in the last three decades, I hope I'm better at picking my company.
"Women Weaken Legs!"
It's hard to think of Rocky as something new, but on that night it was. This guy shouting "Yo, Adrian!", the obnoxious Paulie, the shy, but loving girlfriend--I met these people for the first time that night.
I recall at one point two guys in theater getting into an argument because one was talking too much. Finally another guy said, "hey, just dig the movie." And it actually worked as the pair of them shut up.
The audience wents nuts when Rocky decked Apollo Creed for the first time during the climactic figth scene. When the fight ended and the two boxers embraced, Ted said to me, "I'd like to see it end now"--without a winner being declared. I think he was right; that would have been better.
But the film went on until Adrian and Rocky traded "I love you's" and we both groaned at how corny that sounded. I saw Rocky again a few months later at the Alpine in Bay Ridge and the audience applauded at that scene. Outer-borough people are too sentimental.
Rocky opened to the general public a short time after the sneak preview and it swept the country. It seemed that's all people were talking about and Stallone was everywhere. A woman in my film class said that she told her boyfriend that while she was crazy about him, she'd leave in a heartbeat if Stallone showed up.
I saw Rocky the second time with my girlfriend at the time, whom I call Lulu. She was a lot like Ted in that I thought she was someone I wanted to have close to me, but who was actually not worth the effort. Lulu had gone out with me earlier, dumped me, got dumped by the guy she dumped me for, then came back and dumped me again.
But this was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and it was great seeing a movie like that with a girl. Lulu grabbed my arm and cheered as Rocky fought back against Creed. It was a magical night.
Stallone went on to make mostly crap after that--including that hateful Rambo creature--but he kept on coming back to the Rocky character for sequel after sequel.
Rocky fought Creed again, Mr. T, the big Russian freakazoid, and then someone named Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. By then, though, I had stopped paying for Rocky movies and caught the end of that one on cable one rainy afternoon. And I still felt cheated.
Stallone is still able to squeeze something out of the story, but that's not surprising. The lovable loser fighting against impossible odds with his true love at his side--it's pretty hard to screw that up.
In this latest outing, he is certainly showing his age. He looks weird, to be honest. I don't know if it's cosmetic surgery or steroids, but Stallone looks rubbery, like a wrinkled G.I. Joe. And the fight scenes are almost laughable as this 60-year-old man gets into the ring and grunts with every punch.
But there is that drama when he hits the deck and I get angry with myself when I wince in sympathy. What do you think is going to happen, guy? We've got to have a happy ending.
In the DVD mini-feature, Stallone gives every indication that this is the end for Rocky, the last time he'll run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the last time he'll climb into the ring.
I think that's a great idea. It's time for Rocky to fly now and not return, but I want to wish him well and say thanks for fighting the good fight.
Then Star Wars came along.
It was just a few months after Rocky when another huge movie hit the world across the face. Again, I saw Star Wars when it was new,when Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo were unknown.
I went up the train to visit Lulu in Rockland County (one of the reasons it didn't work out, but it would have bombed if we had been next-door neighbors) and this woman sitting next to me starting telling me all about this hot new movie called Star Wars.
I don't remember much about the conversation, except that this woman was very excited about the picture. And that she had a joint in her cigarette case--it seemed like she wanted me to see it as proof of how cool she was.
I took Lulu to see Star Wars at a theater on E86th Street on the day of the Puerto Rican parade. The relationship was in a death spiral by then.
There was a huge line outside the theater and when I suggested we skip the movie, Lulu whined "what are we going to do (instead)?" I guess my company wasn't good enough for her.
We got on what I thought was the end of the line and filed into the theater. As we moved I realized we had actually stepped into a gap in the line and had gotten ahead of a whole bunch of people. No one complained, by some miracle, and in we went.
I'll never forget seeing that huge battle cruiser cross the screen for the first time. The scene was awesome and I enjoyed every second that followed. The catina, the light sabre duels, the space dogfights--I couldn't get enough of that movie.
I took Lulu to lunch at a nearby diner, then down to Grand Central Station, where she got on a train and rode out of my life. It's just as well. There was no relationship there, only a bit of fiction I cooked up because I was desperate to have a girlfriend.
Now 30 years have gone by and Lulu and Ted are so distant in my memory I could almost doubt their existence. George Lucas went on to make all those sequels and I grew to hate the whole Star Wars franchise.
I saw the second part of the second trilogy and that was enough--it was just a bore, an overblown Flash Gordon potboiler. George, be like Sly and give this series a rest. There's nothing more to say, believe me.
So what have I done with the time when I had it? Not much when I think about it. I didn't reach any of my big dreams and I'm a few weeks away from turning 50.
But I'm tired of beating myself up over this; I pummel myself worse than Apollo Creed pounds on Rocky. Yes, I didn't do enough to reach my goals, I should have been more aggressive, less fearful. It's all true, but kicking myself only wears out my leg and makes it hard to sit down.
Rocky Balboa is crammed with speeches and sermons and I was cringing at most of them. At one point Rocky lecutures his son by saying "it ain't about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"
Yes, it's hackneyed and over the top, but I'll take it. It sure beats sitting on your can and saying where did the time go?
Thursday, March 22, 2007
In my case, the sign was an actual sign. I saw it Monday night on my way to my solo performance class.
This was a neon sign, three stories overhead, and while it was supposed to say "Psychic Reading," some of the letters had crapped out to where it now spelled out "Psychic Ding."
You know I swear some days neon signs are built to burn out and give off these whacked messages. A psychic ding--sounds like a kind of cosmic fender bender.
I got some of that on Saturday, when I went out with my aunt and sister on St. Patrick's Day. It was cold and miserable. The freezing temperatures carved right through my gloves and my socks got wet in record time.
What the hell was I doing here anyway? I hate parades and despite my Irish ancestory I'm becoming less enchanted with St. Patrick's Day with each passing year.
All the bars were filled with boozed up teenagers who thought being drunk was some kind of achievement. I saw a t-shirt reading "Kiss Me I'm Drunk," which pretty much told the story. It was indeed amateur night.
We stopped somewhere on Fifth Avenue, in front of a very posh apartment building overlooking Central Park. The idea was to get a better view of the parade, but instead of enjoying the day and being with my loved ones, I found yet another excuse to make myself miserable.
I'm still trying to piece together my tortured "logic" but I think it went something like this: I saw a young father with his two kids who had been standing next to us turn and walk toward the posh apartment building. The doorman quickly pulled the door open for him and he and his kids went inside.
Not bad, I thought. This guy's got a family and a great place to live, which means he must have awesome job. And what exactly have I got?
Immediately I thought of a writer-director I had read about on the Internet Movie Database--I've got to get off that site. This person, who will go unnamed, is 10 years younger than I am, has a successful entertainment career, plus a wife and two kids.
Sometimes I even amaze myself with bizarre thought patterns. Who else could find such a twisted way to hurt himself? I just stood there like a cigar-store Indian while the world kept turning, and the parade literally passed me by. Finally my aunt started talking to me.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
Well, no, but I didn't want to tell her what was bothering me. I could have summed it by admitting I was insane, but I didn't want to spoil the day.
Ding! You live the life you have, you don't mope over someone else's. It was unfair to my aunt and sister and I sincerely regret it. However, I did manage to pull off one little victory that day when I got splashed with water by a passing cab.
When I say "splashed," of course, I mean "drenched." We had left the parade and were walking down Second Avenue when the cab hit a huge puddle and threw up a wall of water that fell down on top of yours truly.
It was weird. I saw the cab coming, I saw it hit the puddle, and I saw the arc of water sail through the air. And then--ding!--I got an impromptu shower. Welcome to the real world, numb nuts.
Normally, I would have fumed and raged at something like this--looking stupid in front of all the people on the corner. But I took it well. I was wearing work clothes, not my Sunday best, so I turned to the people who were looking at me and bowed like a magician who had just sawed a lady in half.
"And for my next trick..." I said.
I'm glad I was able to laugh at myself, but the upshot is that I got sick. I've got a cold or sinus infection and I am just furious. I had to take off from work on Wednesday because I couldn't sleep the night before because of all the coughing and sneezing.
Sick of It All
It is so frustrating. I had a stomach bug just a few weeks ago and now I'm back on the sick list. I get so angry, so negative when I catch something, especially when it's a double whammy like this.
I'm trying to eat the right foods, take the right vitamins, and maintain a positive attitude, but none of that seems to be working. I still get sick much too often.
All right, so I'm miserable. We've got that covered. On Wednesday night I was doing some web-surfing when my phone went off. I assumed it was some telemarketing zombie, but I was wrong.
"Is this Bobby Lenihan?" a voice asked me.
"Yes," I said quickly.
That's not exactly true. I've always been "Rob" or "Robert," but never "Bob" or "Bobby," as my parents hated that name. The only time I went by "Bobby" was about 25 years ago (Ding!) when I used to go a gym on Ovington Avenue. The owner started calling me that and I didn't have the heart to correct him.
So I'm talking to the man on the phone and I realize pretty quickly that he's got the wrong number. Fine, but then who is Bobby Lenihan?
Is he my evil twin? My doppleganger? (I love that word.) Is he some variation of me that is healthy, successful, and emotionally stable. Is he that fucker on Park Avenue with the great apartment? The possibilities are endless, especially when you're deranged.
Maybe this is the version of me that came out right. He's got the life I should have, he stole it, like somebody walking out of a restaurant wearing my coat. Come back here, you putz, and fight like a man.
Or it could have been just a wrong number, but where's the fun in that?
I went in today, thinking, praying, actually, that Friday would be slow, but, I got dinged upside the psyche on that one, brother.
The computer system at work crashed, I couldn't get out some very important e-mails, and I remember thinking, how could it possibly get any worse? I soon found out.
I left work at around 5:30 PM, headed to the train station and saw an R train just sitting there with its doors open. I buzzed through the turnstile, dodge around some woman who couldn't decide if she wanted to take the train or not, and leaped into the car.
And fell down in front of a subway car full of commuters.
It was raining out and there was a patch of water on the floor that I didn't see until I was tumbling through the air. I heard people say "ooh!" like they do at wrestling matches when someone gets his skull rammed into the head post, so I jumped up and tried to make a joke out of it, like I did with the cab on St. Patrick's Day.
Everyone looked away when I stood up, refusing to make eye contact. I guess they felt sorry for me. I was going to go into the next car, but I had to prove I could rise above the humiliation, so I took a seat and began reading my paper.
So it's another weekend in the house, recuperating. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this week marked the fourth anniversary of President Chimpy's Iraqui Debacle.
If the mission of this thing was to deplete our military, kill innocent civilians, create even more radical Islamic fundamentalists and cause the rest of the world to hate us, well, then the mission has most definitely been accomplished.
Tonight I was checking the Merriam site to check my spelling and I stared at their word of the day: "Drub." Meaning to beat severely. First used in English to describe a form of punishment that involved beating the soles of a culprit's feet with a stick or cudgel. It is believed to come from the Arabic word--
I thought I heard something go ding!
Is that you, Bobby?
Friday, March 16, 2007
Well, no, of course not. Nothing is forever, dimwit, didn't anyone ever tell you that?
I wish had something said along those lines this morning to the freak that kept dialing my number in the dead of night, but all I could do was mumble, no, and then ask what number was he trying to call.
The line went dead in my hand, though, so I never did find out what the guy meant by "forever" and why he thought he could find it by calling me.
I went back to bed and tried in vain to get some sleep. I closed my eyes for what felt like a few seconds and when I opened them it was time to get up for work. It's been that kind of week.
It's early on St. Patrick's Day morning, and just like my father always said, the weather is godawful for the Irish. The city is buried under a layer of wet snow and freezing rain, a truly hideous combination that makes walking, driving, and living in general pretty unpleasant.
I trudged up to a local saloon tonight to meet up with a friend and catch a band, but I pulled the plug early. Walking was so difficult I just wanted to go the hell home.
Should I make my annual threat to move to California now? I usually do that about this time of the year, when I'm so fed up with winter and so envious of other climates that dare to be better than the one I'm in.
I've been thinking about the play Da, a play by the Irish playwright Hugh Leonard, which I saw last week in Brooklyn Heights. The main character is a succesful playwright who comes back home after his father's death and is haunted by his dad's ghost.
This probably wasn't the best choice for me, given my father's recent passing, but I wanted to do something for St. Patrick's Day and I've wanted to see this play for a long time.
The father character was really nothing like my dad--far too mild and nowhere near as furious or angry. For me, the most disturbing scenes did not occur between father and son, but between the 40-something hero and a younger version of himself.
"I have to tell you," the young punk says to the middle-aged man, "I'm a little disappointed. I thought I would have accomplished more by the time I got to be your age."
I was sitting in the audience and I felt that one land. I could only imagine what the 20-year-old rendition of me would say to his almost half-century self.
You mean you're still living at home?! You're not a famous filmmaker or novelist? You don't live in a fabulous mansion in Malibu or a palatial apartment on Park Avenue?
Christ on a Krispy Kreme, you fire-breathing loser, what the hell have you been doing for the last 30 years?
All I Have to Do is Scream
I'm not sure how I would answer, except shrug and say something deep like, uh, gosh, I don't know, the time kind of flew by I guess, but by then my doppelganger would have picked up the nearest blunt instrument and chased me over hill and dale screaming "Die, die, die!"
I was a pretty excitable kid, though I can hardly blame myself in this case.
In addition to late night wrong numbers, there's the dream I had during the week, where this woman who had dumped me when I was about 20--we'll call her Betty--had come back to tell me that she was getting married to a reporter I knew from the Pocono Record. We'll call him Fred.
In the dream I was terribly jealous, because I would be seeing them on a regular basis. I was so angry because I wouldn't be able to show my rage as it would hurt my friendship with Fred. I liked him in the dream and in real life.
Fred was a helluva nice guy, while Betty was another story. She had this insufferable fake sweetness about her even when she was ditching me and going off with another guy.
I've had nothing to do with either one of these people for years, especially Betty, who is somewhere in the three-decade range of MIA-dom--and that's just the way I want it with her.
This was one of the dreams where, upon waking, I literally thanked God it was only a dream and not real life. I didn't need some loser dialing a wrong number to get me out of this one. My subconscious mind apparently pulled the ripcord and got me back to the land of the (semi) living.
So clearly I've got a problem letting go of the past and forgiving myself for my mistakes--anger and jealousy are my Scylla and Charybdis, a phrase I've been itching to use for a while.
Yeah, I've should taken more risks when I was younger, done something more about my dreams than just dream about them. Hell, maybe I could pass the buck back to my younger self.
You were younger and stronger than I. Why didn't you do something more than just let the time pass? But buck-passing is never good and when you do it to yourself it's a little wacky.
I was very sorry to learn that the comedian Richard Jeni died. Like myself, he was set to turn 50 this year, although a little bit later.
I interviewed Richard while I was a reporter at Adweek, a job I truly hated. I was doing a story about Jeni's short theatrical ads that he was doing for Coca-Cola. He seemed like a very nice man and talked to me at length about the spots.
This happened around the time of the Lewinsky "scandal" and he made a joke about not being that desperate to go the Monica route--at least not yet, any way. His family said he had been diagnosed earlier this year with clinical depression and suffered bouts of psychotic paranoia. Poor bastard.
Obviously I didn't know the man, but it was painful to hear about this. He was funny guy, but that wasn't enough to say him. Maybe it was even part of the problem. He spent so much time making other people laugh, no one wanted to know about his pain.
I'm wondering now if that was my younger self on the phone this morning, calling to ask if I--we--would be around forever. No, Younger Me, we won't. We all have to go sometime and, Lord willing, we're not driven by dark forces to hasten the process.
So Happy St. Patrick's Day to me, to you, to all those reading these words and even those who aren't. Don't fight with the past, don't argue with your youthful ghost, just put on your plastic green derby and get out there and grab a glass of stout.
Have a great time and remember that nothing lasts forever.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
I was little huffy, but I called, asked for Agent Now and got some techie to guide me through my modem's innards. I felt I was conducting an autopsy using a medical dictionary.
Okay, so we're back up and I go do my shopping. I return, click on the computer, and there's that smiley rubber ball refusing to get me online.
I am livid by this time and do one of my greatest hits, about how this is the 21th Century and I still get connected, what is this bullshit, so on and so forth.
That could be the opening of the spy movie, with the hapless victim shouting the hero's name into a telephone just before being riddled with machine gun fire. Cut to the credits with a montage of our hero firing guns, jumping out of airplanes, and karate-chopping various steroid-pumped nogoodniks.
Oh, I should mention here that screaming at telephone answering systems is not the smartest course of action at a time like this. They're not real people, so they can't hear you and there's a chance that your rants are being recorded.
I think I get so angry because I'm so helpless when I can't get online and I'm so dependent upon the Internet. There's the importance stuff, but the truth is that I waste a lot time online. But that doesn't stop me from turning around and whining that I don't have enough time for my various projects.
You Think You Got ProblemsThis time the tech support guy tells me that there's been a system outage, which I thought only happened to Con Ed. He said it could take up to 24 hours, which almost caused me to faint, but it would probably be less than that.
Indeed it was, as I clocked in a few hours later and found everything working just fine. That night I met a woman at my Brooklyn Meetup bash and I asked her what she did.
"I work for Verizon," she said, adding quickly, "it's not my fault."
I'm sure if she was referring to that day's events or life with Verizon in general. But we both had a good laugh.
My anger seems so foolish now, a ridiculous overreaction to a minor incident. It got to thinking about an obituary I read in the L.A. Times on Friday for a woman named Jean Kennedy Schmidt, who was one of the Angels of Bataan, the American military nurses who were Japanese prisoners of war for nearly three years during World War II.
She was 88 years old and one of the group's last survivors. These women lived under the most hideous conditions during the darkest time of the war. I think of my silly little problems--"I can't log on to You Tube!"--and I feel pretty small.
The article had an excellent quote from Schmidt's daughter, who said her mother's wartime experiences had given her a "sunny disposition."
"It took very little to make her happy," the daughter said. "We never really saw her angry. She was only sad at the death of her comrades."
She didn't use those terrible times as a crutch, or an excuse to lash out at the rest of the world. She was able to look at them as a way of making her life better.
My father suffered greatly during the war, far more than any of us will ever know. I often wonder if that explained his violent outburts, hair-trigger temper, and hardcore meanness. We'll never know, but there's much to learn from women like Jean Kennedy Schmidt.
I started my one-person show class on Monday and I have to say I loved it. The people are great, the instructor is very supportive, and I'm having a ball. The classes are held at this beautiful facility on W. 36th Street, a whole floor of studios dedicated to the performing arts.
There were dance classes, acting classes, martial arts, and God knows what else. The place just reeked of creative, positive energy, both of which are in short supply in my life.
There are eight people in the class, only two of which are male. And, under the heading of "Small Freaking World," a woman I met at the Brooklyn mixer (not the Verizon lady) told me she knew the guy from a Peace Corps Meetup group.
The teacher had us tell a brief version of our life stories, then one-by-one, we took the hot seat, faced the firing squad of class members and ranted.
Two women started crying when they talked about their lives, and then apologized. Hell, I didn't mind because I could tell their emotions were real. Then I got up there.
It's the strangest feeling, speaking before a group, even one so small. But I just told them what was going on in my life: my father's death, my upcoming 50th birthday, my life in an empty shell of a house--it was great. How often do you have a chance to do something like this?
I feel a little more confident now because I didn't could or should do this sort of thing. And it's different from stand-up, which I had once considered. I'm not up there being a clown, begging for laughs. I'll telling my story and if I do it right, I'll be telling everybody else's, too.
I have two homework assignments, which I banged out the day after class. I'm going to edit them now and then tomorrow I'll read them--perform them?--in front of the class.
It should be great and if there's any trouble, I'll call for Agent Now.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Sometimes people have a way of coming into your life just when you need them the most.
This is extremely rare, I know, and in my experience it's always been the exact opposite scenario, as in, oh, no, haven't I got enough problems without have to deal with this card-carrying douche bag on top of it all?
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, the tattoo and signed the movie deal.
But today was different. I actually met somebody worth knowing and worth remembering.
I've been feeling like crap for the last 10 days or so, with a sinus-stomach-psychotic espisode that's got me using the little strength I have to crawl the walls and curse the fates.
I stayed in last night, even though it was Friday, even though I had two events I could have attended. I just went the hell home, got some chicken and rice soup, and watched The Fifth Element on TV---dumb flick, but it's got some great visuals.
This morning I went out in search of a George Foreman grill, or a new one, I should say, as I already have one. The problem with mine, though, is that it's not mine, it's Mary's, my late father's aid.
Since my father died--I still can't believe it--Mary doesn't come around anymore, for obvious reasons, and among the things she left behind was the grill.
I love that thing. My doctor told me a while ago that my cholesterol was a little high, and I suspect that might have been the result of Mary's cooking for my dad. Delicious food, but she made a lot of fried dishes.
At some point she brought the grill over and I've been making use of it. I don't do anything elaborate--just chicken breast or the occassional turkey burger. But I save money by cooking my own meal and I get a little feeling of accomplishment by doing things myself.
Then Mary calls me this week and tells me she wants the thing back. Mary is diabetic and she had a TIA, a seizure that is similar to a stroke only there is no lasting damage. She fainted, hit the floor, and had to go to the hospital.
Her doctor laid down the law: no more fried food, no more cigarettes (she has to be told this?!), so she's got to go back to George Foreman. This is upsetting because most of my father's troubles started with a TIA. Please, Mary, take care of yourself.
So I've got to buy my own grill. I could get one at a place near my office, but I don't feel like lugging one of these things around on the subway. That means buying one on Saturday, which means a 20-block walk or subway ride to the shopping strip on 86th Street.
Normally, I wouldn't care, but, as I said, I felt like crap and didn't feel like hiking anywhere.
I figured I'd check Thriftee, a local discount store that has just about everything but the Rosetta Stone on its shelves. I've been going there most of my life, usually as a last resort when I couldn't find what I was looking for anywhere else, and, of course, it's Christmas Decorations Central.
The owner's a bit of a character and has been known to break out in song without any warning. I joke with the young guy at the cash register that I'm going to get him a set of ear plugs.
Anyway, they didn't have the George Foreman grill, and I was picking up a new toothbrush when I heard the owner talking with a woman about another customer.
"He chases after younger women in their 90's," he said.
Good for him, whoever he is. I went to the cash register and told the kid to ring me up before the owner started singing "Danny Boy." Then the owner comes walking out with this old man to next to him.
"See this man?" he asked me. "He's going to be 102 years old next week."
I looked at this man: he was short, with a wrinkled face, and these huge shoulders. His eyes were bright and he knew exactly what was going on.
"Squeeze his fist," Mr. Thriftee said to me. "Go ahead."
This felt like some old medicine show routine, but I decided to play along. The old man made a fist, I put my hand around his knuckles and it was like squeezing a rock.
It turns out the old man, whose name was Dundee (I think his first name was Ray, but I'm not sure. Can I get a "duh"?), was a professional fighter for many years.
"I've fought all over the country," he told me. "I fought all the great fighters..."
He ticked off a list of boxers from the Golden Age and the only one I recognized was Benny Leonard, whom one of my uncles sparred with back in the day.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Dundee had a low of opinion of today's boxers and after naming a few of them, he said he could have taken them all in his prime. I laughed at his bravado, but I didn't argue.
"Sometimes the young kids in the neighborhood tease you," he said. "They see the white hair and they call you 'old man.' Then I go into my stance."
Mr. Dundee glided into a perfect boxing stance, like a ballroom dancer, and put up his fists. Then he shifted his feet and eased into another position, leading with his right.
"Or I'll do southpaw," he said. "They don't know what to do when they see that."
It occurs to me now that I should have asked him for some pointers about my jab, which could use some work, frankly.
I noticed he had a cap adorned with military medals and he said he had been a gunnery sergeant in the Marines and had fought in Guadalcanal. He told me he stopped boxing after he lost some of the vision in his left eye and was unable to see his opponents' jabs.
I introduced myself and shook hands with Mr. Dundee. He had a strong grip, but he wasn't showing off.
"Nice meeting you," he said and he squeezed my hand again in an affectionate way that told me he meant it.
He told me his brother was once the welterweight champion and after a net search, I came up with the name Johnny Dundee, who real name was Giuseppe Carrora. He was called the "Scottish Wop"--this was a while ago--and he won the junior lightweight championship in 1921.
I found a listing for a fighter named Ray Dundee, who fought in the Twenties, but his bio says he was born in St. Paul, Minn. and the man I met today said he was from Baltimore. Oy, some reporter I'd make.
I got my George Foreman grill at an electronics place a block away from Thriftee, but I couldn't forget about the other fighter I had met today. I wish I had gotten his phone number. He must have great stories to tell, between the boxing, the war, and living beyond the century mark.
I'm just glad I met him. I've been feeling so down lately and the fact that I'm going to turn 50 in May isn't helping. I'm not feeling well, but I'm not doing enough out of this rut, and, I'm making it worse by getting angry and miserable. Meeting something like Mr. Dundee perked me up.
I watched my father die at 85 and he was in terrible shape at the end. Here's a man who had 17 years on my dad who is in remarkably good shape. A lot of that is fate, of course, and genetics. Boxers aren't known for their longevity or their mental capacity, but Mr. Dundee has both.
"You should be in his kind of shape when you're 85," Mr. Thriftee said to me.
Here's hoping. I held the door open for Mr. Dundee as he left the store and walked out behind him. I'm kicking myself for not getting some contact information, but I'm praying I'll run into him again.
"Take care of yourself," he said, as we went our separate ways.
"You, too, champ," I said.