Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Shish Kebab Affair

This all started with a craving for shish kebab.

It was Wednesday night, I was coming home from work and I wanted to have something different for dinner.

A local grocery store makes a nice shish kebab and I usually buy two of them, cooking one and saving the one for another day.

It was a block out of my way, but my taste buds had made their decision and there would be no arguing.

So I walked into the store and this heavyset fellow in a baseball cap brushes by me on his way to the back of the store.

I picked up my shish kebab and make a loop around the store to see if there was anything else I needed or wanted. And that's when I observed the individual in the baseball cap.

He was stuffing a box of bacon under his shirt--a shoplifter.

I looked at him, he looked at me, and I looked away. He was much bigger and younger than I, so I wasn't about to grab him by the scruff of the neck, shake the bacon to the floor, and give him a stern lecture on civics. No, I was going to handle this intelligently.

I turned my back and walked away.

Coney Island Baby

It had been a long day. I had spent most of it at Coney Island, yes, the amusement area, for a video shoot. I was doing a story about personal tour guides and I found a woman online who takes people around to New York sites, including Coney Island.

The editors encourage us to think of video companion pieces to go with our stories, so I thought this would be a nice fit. I got the go-ahead and set up the meeting.

Linda, the guide, told me there was one potential problem: her mother was literally at death's door and could go at any minute. This news took me on an emotional tour I could have done without, as I remembered my mother's last days.

I told her not to worry, that we'd reschedule if necessary, but she assured me that she would be there.

"I need to stay occupied," she said.

I understand that perfectly. If you focus on the inevitable constantly you'll go insane. And also--I hate to be crass--this video will be good for her business.

Does she let this opportunity go so she can watch her mother give up her last breath? Or does she focus on the here and now? It's never an easy choice.

The cameraman and I met Linda outside of Nathan's at noon. I was wearing a suit and tie and I told Linda to pretend I was one of her clients.

"If you were a client," she said, "the first thing I'd tell you would be not to wear a suit."

She was so right. I was the only guy for miles around wearing a tie, while everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts. But I wanted to look professional.

I had spent the last few days worrying about this shoot, convinced "something would go wrong" so now that it was actually happening, I was willing to sweat for the cause.

I had another flashback here. My father had suffered a stroke last fall and had gone to Saints Joachim and Anne Residences in Coney Island for rehab. It was just a few blocks away and right on the ocean.

After visiting him, I'd walk down the boardwalk to the train station, passing that sign at Nathan's that counts down to the July Fourth hotdog eating contest.

But that was almost a year ago. Today I was here for business, so Linda took us around to various points of interest and gave us a brief history of each spot. People looked at us, but no one seemed terribly excited. This was Brooklyn, after all.

I thought I was prepared, but I did not bring suntan oil--who brings that crap to work? People who don't want to get a sunburn, I guess. So as the day wore on, my head got redder and redder.

After Linda left, Dee, the cameraman, went around to get more shots to go with the story. As I watched his equipment, this grizzled old man, who was little more than tattoos and bone, came hobbling down the boardwalk with his cane. He looked like a Coney Island lifer.

As he got close to me, he peered into a trash bin.

"I'm going to put someone's head in there tonight," he growled.

I made some kind of sound to indicate I had heard him and he muttered, "not yours," as he went by. He stopped for a moment and looked back and I thought, oh, boy, this could get interesting. But then he kept going.

Dee got some nice footage of the Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump, and the Cyclone, which I had thought riding as part of the story. I am so glad that didn't happen because even from the ground that first drop looks terrifying.

Some 20-odd years ago I tried my hand at the private eye genre with some short stories about a character I called Nick Morocco.

In his debut, "The Big Drop," which was never published, of course, Nick gets lost on the subway and winds up in Coney Island in the dead of night in the dead of winter.

He helps a crazy old man, who turns out to be powerful crime boss in another life, and then runs afoul of some local punks. I know if I read the story now I'd fall to the floor cringing, but you have to start someplace.

As Dee was getting some more footage around Nathan's, this middle-aged man parked his car at the corner, got out, and helped an elderly man out of the passenger side.

Then he opened the rear door and assisted an old lady and I figured these were his parents. He spoke with them briefly and then drove off to find a parking spot. His folks wanted hot dogs at Nathan's, but the line was incredibly long.

This man seemed a little impatient, but I recognized the stress you feel when taking care of your aging parents. You're frightened, you can't believe they're this old and helpless.

You can't believe you're not a child anymore, and in some cases, you're resentful because you're not getting the help you need. It can be very tough on the nerves.

I was thinking of striking up a conversation with these people before their son came back, but Dee showed up and said he had gotten all the footage he needed. Dee wanted a Nathan's hotdog, too, but scrapped those plans after seeing the line.

"You have to do it right," he said on the train ride home. "You have to take your time."

As we got on the N train at Stillwell Avenue--it was much more sinister in Nick Morocco's day--and an elderly lady with a Bible in her hand started talking to me, but I couldn't make out a word she said.

She eventually glommed on to a young man who made the mistake of sitting next to her. He looked at her spare Bible--she pakced two of them--for a short time before returning it to her and cracking open The Post.

We got back to the office at around 3:30 p.m. and I worked on the print version of my story. I left at around 5 p.m. and as I rode home on the subway, I got this desire for shish kebab...

Freeze, Bacon Boy!

I watched the shoplifter walk down the aisle toward the door, hating myself. I didn't have the guts to face him down--which is probably while I'm not in the hospital right now.

But it bothered me; this clown decided he could intimidate me into silence...and it was working. Would Nick Morocco just stand there like a dummy? I wished I had some backup, like my head-chopping buddy from the boardwalk.

And this thief was so bad at his job, just stuffing the package under his shirt. It looked like some training film from the Fifties. The suspect makes his move when no one is looking...

Screw it, I thought, this is life in the big city. You keep your mouth shut, you mind your own business and nobody gets hurt.

Only somebody was getting hurt. This bum looked neither impoverished nor starving. In fact, he could miss a few meals without any fear of being malnourished. And don't give me that sticking-it-to-the-man crap.

We weren't in Wal-Mart's--which wouldn't have justified theft anyway--we were in a small neighborhood business.

I got to the cash register and I approached the store manager, who was sitting in a high booth.

"That guy who just left stole something," I said.

"Who?" The man said, pointing down the block. "The guy in the cap?"


Off he went in hot pursuit. The woman behind the cash register shook her head and said people are always stealing from them.

I smiled nervously and asked her to ring up the shish kebab. I didn't want Bacon Boy to come back and slice me up like a prize ham.

The store manager brought home the bacon and thanked me. I got the hell out of there and walked home looking over my shoulder.

Yes, I was being a good citizen and reporting a crime, but I was also a stoolie, a squealer, a rat, a cheese-eater. I had put my nose in where it didn't belong and spoiled Bacon Boy's day at the office. What was I--some kind of hero?

My father used to tell us about this guy named Arnold Schuster, who achived some degree of fame back in 1952 when he spotted the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton in downtown Brooklyn and called the cops.

Albert Anastasia, a New York crime boss at the time, reportedly saw Schuster on TV talking about his good deed and got so angry that he ordered the guy killed even though the mobster had no connection to Sutton.

"I can't stand squealers," Anastasia supposedly declared.

I don't think I'm dealing with that caliber--ouch!--of criminal. But I won't be going back to the store for a while and when I do, I won't be wearing a suit.

And the hell of it is, I could have easily picked up some chicken breasts closer to home, made my own damn shish kebab, and avoided all this nonsense. But maybe it was fate.

I enjoyed my dinner that night. Not only did I have a delicious shish kebab, I also took a bite out of crime.

Case closed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Everything Must Go

I walked by Thriftee tonight for one last look.

I've been going to this discount store on Fifth Avenue ever since I could walk, so I wanted to see it one more time before it disappeared.

For weeks I've been reading the handwritten sign in the window: "After 62 Years...goodbye!"

There's another sign up there tonight, this one in Arabic, reflecting the change in the neighborhood's population.

The number 62 appears in this sign as well, so maybe it's a variation on the original farewell message.

The windows were shuttered and there was one light on inside. I peered through the glass door and saw the owner, a rotound fellow whose shining bald pate was ringed with white hair, spoke with an earnest young man.

The younger man was holding something in his hand. I thought it might have been a tape recorder, perhaps this guy was reporter getting the Thriftee story for future generations.

But then again, it might have been a cell phone and this guy could have been the building's new owner.

Like a lot of small businesses in this city, Thriftee couldn't keep up with the spiraling rent. So the store that opened when FDR was in the White House and while my father and millions of others were fighting in World War II will close its doors forever.

Let's be honest, Thritee was always the place to go when you wanted to get stuff cheap. These wasn't well-crafted, high quality items. This was low rent--you should pardon the expression.

For years I'd go in there just before taking a long trip and buy new socks, underwear, razors and toothpaste. Even if I didn't need these things, I couldn't start a vacation unless I made a stop at Thriftee.

Around the holidays I always stopped in Thriftee to get light bulbs and tinsel, always more tinsel, for the Christmas tree.

I did my last shopping there on Saturday, picking up three t-shirts and a pair of notebooks. I always love buying new notebooks, convinced that these are the blank pages upon which I will write my great novel, or play, or screenplay, or one-man show, and begin a new life of wealth and fame.

I actually got only one notebook, but when the cashier told me it was buy one get one free I sprinted back to the stationery section and picked up my freebie. I may be slow cranking out that novel, but I respect a good sale.

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

For some reason I think there should be more to mark this occassion instead of just switching off the lights and pulling down the last metal shutter.

I'd like to see some kind of media coverage, beyond the local papers; the TV stations should be here and the city should issue a proclamation declaring that for more than six decades this store sold...a lot of inexpensive stuff.

Jesus, the satellite trucks were all over the place when the tornado hit a few weeks ago. We've got another tornado going on, only it's going so slowly you're liable to miss it--until it's too late.

On the way over to Thriftee I had to walk by a local men's store that's also shutting down. The place is just about empty now and some men were removing the last boxes of shirts while a young worker swept the floor.

This place had the "going out of business" sign, too, but I get a little cynical. I'm so used to seeing these signs at stores that never actually shut their doors, I've come to doubt their veracity.

It's kind of like a band's farewell tour that keeps on going. But these people aren't kidding. These stores are going, going, gone.

This place was nowhere near as old as Thriftee, but it's got at least 10 years to its name. I went in there a long time and got two new suits that I still wear for job interviews.

I recall trying one of them on and the young, very short Hispanic man waiting on me nodded his approval.

"You look like a million dollar man," he said in heavily accented English.

I took my father in there on the day of my mother's wake to get him some new clothes. The pants needed to be shortened so we went over to John's Tailoring, which is across the street from Thriftee and which also closed this summer.

I was getting nervous, certain we were going to be late for my mother's wake, nearly as bad as being late for your own funeral. But we managed to get there on time. I'm thinking now that maybe my dad was buried in that suit.

John's was in business for 34 years and the owner was this very nice Greek lady who decided to retire.

In no time at all the furniture store next to her business bought the property, knocked down the wall and expanded into John's space. If you're new to the neighborhood, you'd never know there was such a place.

Again, after all that time there, I'd like to see some kind of acknowledgement that the place actually existed. How many tailors do we have in this town anymore?

When I ask most dry cleaners if they do repair work they look at me like I'm insane. And perhaps I am to be thinking this way. Most of today's clothing is made to be thrown away, no repaired.

So now all three-John's, the men's store, and my father--are all gone.

I was talking with the people in Picardi, the butcher store a few doors down from Thriftee, about how the neighborhood is changing.

One of the women there told me that she was the first customer at John's Tailoring, back when there was a John, before he died and his wife took over the store.

"He asked me if I was Greek," the woman told me, "and I said yes. He said I would bring him luck."

The staff at Picardi seems nervous to me. There are rumors that Thriftee will be replaced by a supermarket, which would put a lot of pressure on this small business.

Picardi is hurting already with the change in the neighborhood and the increase in the number of halal butcher shops.

"They can't put a supermarket there," one of the owners said, "the parking around here is terrible."

That sounded more like wishful thinking to me. Since when did developers pay any attention to little details like traffic and overcrowding?

Just drive down Fourth Avenue and you'll see one massive apartment building after another going up and spreading out.

I can't begin to guess what kind of impact these places will have on the surrounding neighborhoods and I don't think the people building them know or care what happens once these places are rented or purchased.

One of the women at Picardi thought there might be a fast food "restaurant" going up on the space. Let us hope not. There are so many of these place up around 86th Street it looks like...everywhere else in America.

Maybe that's why I hate to see these local business go. Because they're local and in some way that makes them mine. When one of them shuts down, there goes another piece of my past.

Yes, nothing lasts forever and neighborhoods change, but it's just a little tougher when its your neigbhorhood that's changing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fathers, Friends, And Dreams

I did some time traveling this morning by way of a dream.

This wasn't a trip to ancient Egypt or the Roman Empire, this was the recent past--my recent past to be exact.

I dreamed my father was still alive, still elderly and still in need of care. Seven months after his death, seven months of not having to worry about him anymore, I was back on the job.

He was walking around the living room in his boxer shorts looking for his pants. I saw that he was dirty--there were feces stains on his legs, much like real life, I'm afraid. I had to stop him from getting dressed and gently tell him he had to wash.

I woke up just as we were going into the bathroom, where normally I would sit him down on his special chair and wash him down. That was always tough because it was hard to clean him and the damn water was either too cold or too hot.

It's hard to think about those days now, even though they weren't that long ago. I went back to sleep or maybe I never woke up, but the next thing I remember, the wrestler Hulk Hogan was in my face and quite upset at me about something.

That's all I can recall of that little episode, but I'm sure he was a stand-in for my father. Only instead of being a helpless old man in need of a bath, he was big, angry and menacing, all of which my father could be in his darker moments.

Maybe I was punishing myself by conjuring up this fearful image. Perhaps I feel guilty that I'm glad I don't have to take care of my father anymore, so my subconscious mind sent a monster into my dreams to lay down the smack.

I was thinking more about fatherhood over the weekend. I was walking through the park on Shore Road and I saw this man teaching his little girl how to ride a bicycle.

He helped her shove off, jogged a few yards with her, and then she was free. It looked like such a beautiful moment, but I'll never know what that's like.

Of course I love my two nieces more than I could ever say, but still, at times like these, the idea of having my own kid gnaws at me.

The problem was I chose to be a child for so long myself, I'm not sure if I would have much to teach him or her about life. I've failed at so many things, been so fearful to strike out on my own--what am I going to tell a kid about being independent?

I mean, it took me forever to learn how to ride a bike and I was unable to tie my own shoes--literally--for the longest time. I got used to the idea of people doing things for me at a very young age and I'm still having trouble shaking that notion.

But I know I could love a child with all my heart and, at the very least, I could tell the kid do not grow up to be like daddy.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like if I had child, preferrably a little girl (after the nieces, that's really all I want).

What would she look like? With my preference for black women, maybe I'd have a little mixed race sweetheart with dreadlocks and fine brown skin. What would she be when she grew up? As long as she was happy, I'd be very satisfied.

People say I can still have a child now, but at 50 years old, I don't think that's wise--though I'm not ruling it out. It's just that my career situation is still a bit shaky, so creating on a family would be a tough move.

And I'll be an old man when the kid is still pretty young. I'll be wheezing when I teach her to ride a bike and likely to fall on my face after the first few steps.

A Bicycle Built For One

He or she will be hosing me down while they're still in high school and I don't think that's fair to the child at all.

It strikes me that teaching a kid to ride a bike mirrors the whole parenting experience. You guide the child, show him or her what to do, help them along as much as you can, and then you let go into the world.

My problem is that instead of taking off my own, I rode around in circles, never far from home.

Back I was at the Pocono Record, nearly 20 years ago, one of the copy editors told us he and his wife was expecting their third child. He was so young, maybe 30 at the most, and here he was with this big family when I didn't even have a girlfriend.

This fellow seemed a little surprised himself by the news that he was going to be a father for the third time.

"There's never a perfect time," he said.

And he was so right. If you wait for things to be just right--in anything life--that time will never come. You'll be alone and you won't be able to teach anyone how to ride a bicycle.

Age is the issue of the week for me. I learned on Tuesday that a good friend of mine at the office is being laid off. He's 55 years old and suffering from several serious health problems that prevent him from driving and even using a cell phone.

This man has a confidant of mine and helped me many times with story ideas and career moves. When my position was in trouble, he gave me all kinds of advice about how to survive that particular storm.

"I had no idea this was coming," he said to me the other day.

It's upsetting to see someone you like go through this misery. I'll be honest: I'm always worried about my own hide. It's not easy finding a job now, particularly in my age bracket.

My co-worker told me that during interviews people have sneaky ways of finding out your age without coming out and asking you directly.

Hey, a friend of mine went to the same college. Did you know him?

My colleague, like myself, is unmarried and has no children. He tells that some companies ask about "the family" on the pretense that he may have to relocate them, when they may really be trying to find out if he's gay or not. Oh, brother...

I shook his hand and wished him the best. I promised I'd help him with references and job tips and anything else he needed. I asked him to keep in touch, though the workplace friendship can be a tricky animal.

You get so close to some people you think you'll be buddies forever; you're like soldiers going through combat. Then you go to different jobs and often that great connection fades away. That happened to my father when his best friend at his company left.

My dad called him a few times but this man was suddenly no longer interested in hanging around with my father.

"I thought this was a really solid friendship," he told me, clearly hurting.

Of course, I also have some great friends that I've met through jobs and I still keep in touch with them. But most of them are like me--unmarried with no kids.

I guess when you don't have the little ones running around demanding your attention, the friends become even more important.

On the way home tonight I stopped by a local bike shop and peered through the windows. I haven't ridden a bike in ages and I think I might treat myself. If I can't teach a kid to ride, I can always go for a spin myself.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

So Help Me God

So much happened in history today, August 15, that it's hard to believe it can all be crammed into one day.

Yes, this was V-J Day, when Japan surrendered in 1945 and the day the Panama Canal opened to traffic in 1914, and work on the Berlin Wall began in 1961, and the day that Malcolm whacked Macbeth in 1057.

But this was also my mother's birthday, and though she's been gone for five years now, that's the most important thing about this day for me.

As I look over the list of events for this day, I'm struck by the fact that in 1947, the Ferrari made its racing debut in Pescara, Italy. My mother's maiden name was Ferrari, and no, we're not related to that Ferrari, so please don't ask.

People ask that question a lot as a joke, and I laugh along with them. Every now and then, however some bonehead will seriously ask me if I'm related to the famous automotive family and I just stare at them in disbelief.

Yeah, schmuck, of course, I'm related to the Ferrari family. That's why I've been driving used Toyotas for most of my life, that's why I'm now riding the subways in Brooklyn, instead of chasing bikini-clad honeys on the Riveria.

That's why I'm hanging around dimwits like you, because I'm a European auto tycoon. Oy...

The other interesting thing that happened on August 15 was the release of The Wizard of Oz, which was probably my mother's second favorite movie behind Gone With the Wind.

My loved Judy Garland and she loved this movie. It's amazing that the both debuted on the same day, so to speak.

Every year when The Wizard of Oz came on TV we had to watch it. I hated the film for the longest time, because it had singing and it was about a girl, but I gradually got to enjoy it, thought years went by before I admitted that to my mother.

There's a family legend about Judy Garland and my mom. It seems years ago, back when Judy here variety show, our TV set crapped out on us, so the only working set in the house was downstairs in my grandmother's apartment.

My father and brothers wanted to see Bonanza, but my mom wanted to see Judy Garland. This was in the days before VCR's and Tivo, so we had a crisis on our hands here.

A Better Life Through Television

I suspect my mom thought she'd win this battle, since it was her mother's set after all, and why the hell would an elderly Italian lady want to watch a freaking cowboy show? Well, grandma quickly shot notion down.

"I'm no wanna watch Judy Garlick," she declared, "I wanna watch Bonanza!"

In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, sorry about that, mom. My own theory is that grandma had a thing for Hoss Cartwrigh, but I can't be sure.

I wish I had some definitive memories of my mother's birthday celebrations, but it's very difficult to recall any. What I remember most vividly is how she went out of her way to make sure we enjoyed our birthdays.

Even when we well into adulthood, she made sure we got cards in the mail and a dinner complete with the cake, candles, and a chorus of "Happy Birthday."

I know we took her out for dinner and to shows, but those memories are overwhelmed by the image of her running the various parties and dinners for her children.

And I find it particularly annoying that on this day, of all days, my sister and I had to go an office in downtown Brooklyn and give testimonty in a lawsuit. I'm not going to give any details at this point, as the case has not been settled yet.

But I had to take time off for work on this sweltering hot day, go to an office the size of phone booth, thanks to the rabid air-conditioning system, damn near freeze to death while answering a series of questions.

On my mother's birthday we have to deal with this? I was so close to the courthouse today, but I didn't see any sign of justice.

It got so cold we had to open a window to let warm air in, but that also let in the music of a lunchtime jazz band playing down 9 stories below.

As I answered the lawyer's questions, I was struck by how the court reporter could take down my words while tapping her foot to the music from the street. Does that qualify as multi-tasking?

We finally got done, after blowing half the day, and I went on to my office for a few hours.

I keep wishing for a few minutes--one minute, even--to speak with my mother. I'd just want to tell her how my I love her. I'd apologize for all the times I hurt her feelings, or argued with her, or made her worry with my lousy grades in school, or my equally lousy career choices.

And I'd tell her how much I miss her, how much she meant to me. I'd thank her for the things she taught me, for being a light in a very dark world. She showed me what true goodness really is and I will be eternally grateful for that.

If I think about her more often, the skunks and hustlers in my life become smaller and smaller.

So, yes, I'll gladly raise right hand and testify that my mother was my best friend and I still love her with all my heart. Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you.

And that's the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Interboro Boy

"Last week I went to Philadephia, but it was closed."
--W.C. Fields

Maybe I should have gone to Philadelphia.

I had been thinking about making a daytrip to the City of Brotherly Love on Saturday to visit a woman I met on a whitewater rafting trip.

(I don't know why I wrote "a whitewater rafting trip" as I've done it only once in my life. But, no matter.)

However, as the week progressed, I became less enthralled with the idea of spending half of my Saturday on the bus to see someone who said she wasn't looking for a serious relationship.

We didn't have firm plans, but I did my ostrich routine and just didn't call her. So on Friday she called me and wanted to know what was going on.

She said she thought she had scared me off and I assured that this wasn't the case, which it really wasn't. I'm just lazy and reluctant to shake my routine. I apologized and we talked about a future trip. But I still felt like a dummy.

So, no plan for the weekend and most of friends were busy or out of town--what did I do on Saturday? Not much of anything, really, but I covered a lot of ground.

I knew I had to get out of the house. It was a beautiful night and as summer starts to dwindle I become more and more manic about enjoying every second of the warm weather while it's still around.

I really have to think about moving to some place warm because I've lived in the Northeast all my life and still dread the coming of winter. Maybe I should move to L.A. just to avoid this yearly melodrama.

My aunt, who is at her summer place in the Berkshires, called and told me how, now in her later years, she is obsessed with going out on Saturday night, something that hadn't bothered here for the longest time.

"I don't want to spend another Saturday night listening to Garrison Kellior," she declared.

I spend too much time with Netflix. I know, you can keep the damn thing as long as you want, but I get this urge to shoot it back as soon as possible so I can get the next damn DVD. Is there a Twilight Zone story here?

I thought out going out on one these singles dinner date events, but after hemming and hawing I realized I was too late.

Then I checked a wine-tasting event web site and found a woman I know was holding a wine-tasting at her apartment in the Upper East Side. Tickets were no longer available on line, but I figured I could sweet-talk her into letting me if I gave her cash at the door.

So off I went to where I thought her building was--the exact address isn't posted online unless you pay. When I got there, though, I wasn't sure and I couldn't remember her last name--we hadn't seen each other in over a year.

I didn't have the nerve to do a Seventies cop show routine and press all buttons in hopes of geting the right one to zap me inside. That might have worked for Baretta, but I knew I'd probably get my head stomped in.

I was looking at the buzzer when this guy came out of the building, stood about two feet behind me, and lit up a cigarette. At times like these I am reminded of my father, who, when driving, got a tad annoyed if another motorist had the nerve to get to show up in his rearview mirror.

"I could park on top of the Empire State Building and some son-of-a-bitch will come crawling up my ass!"

Yes, Dad, got a little excited, but I had similar thoughts myself as this guy breathed smoke all over me. I decided to take a walk around the block and come up with a plan.

I'm thinking now that this guy was the building's super and might have been able to help me if I told him I was looking for the wine-tasting. But he was gone by the time I got back, so that door was closed and locked.

Riding The Rails

I thought about doing the stake-out, where you ask people entering the building if they're going to the wine-tasting. That can be a little unnerving in the big city and may get a blast of mace in your mug or a swift kick in the privates.

Hell, I'm from Brooklyn, I could have crossed the street and shouted "Shirleeyyy!" like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire but then I'd give away my outerborough roots and shock all these Manhattan sophisticates with my uncouth ways.

While I standing there, a young woman with an eye patch, a cane, and a pronounced limp, approached me and asked if she could use the bathroom. I explained to her that I was an outsider like herself and suggested she try the Italian restaurant on the corner.

She limped away and I wondered if her condition was the result of an accident or birth defects. Her appearance contrasted sharply with all the healthy, happy, and apparently well-off people eating their dinners in the surrounding restaurants.

It was time to get the hell out of there. If I couldn't get in, I was going to go to one of these nice bars. I started walking...and walking...and walking some more down Third Avenue.

It was such a nice night, I just enjoyed being outside, seeing all the people having fun. I didn't join in, though, but just played the observer.

By the time I reached 58th Street, I had to answer an urgent call of nature. I ducked into The Carriage, a very attractive, spacious bar that for some reason, is almost always empty.

I'm not sure why that is, but all I saw when I went in were two men and a woman at the bar, two guys playing pool and a young woman on the video poker machine. It turns out the pool players and the video girl were employees.

One of the pool players, a large African-American man approached me and asked for to see my ID. Now this is the second time in three months I've been proofed.

I'm sure it comes from the owner's fear of losing his liquour license rather than my youthful good looks, but it means a lot to me, since I keep getting e-mails encouraging me to sign up for AARP.

I got one spritzer and walked to the subway station at 59th Street. It's located below Bloomingdale's, where I worked one Christmas season 32 years ago while I was a freshman at Hunter College.

The store was closed now and there was a homeless man sitting at the top of steps wildly waving his arms and I reached into my pocket, expecting the usual request for spare change. But this man was too far gone, too deep in his own world to notice what was going on around him.

I saw another guy on the subway, who had apparently melded with his Ipod and was performing in his own low-level concert.

People sing along with their music a lot on the train, but this fellow seem possessed, as if he thought were really on stage some place, instead of the N train to Brooklyn.

When I got back to Bay Ridge, I still didn't want to go home, so I did some more walking. I couldn't help but notice that the noise level increased in Brooklyn.

People seemingly remove the mufflers from their vehicles, blast their car stereos, shout instead of talk, and where the hell did all these motorcyles come from? Manhattan seemed like the Cloisters in comparison.

Something caught my eye at the corner of 78th Street and it turned out to be the glow from an immense projection TV in a second floor apartment...across the street. I know these things are supposed to be big, but this was like the screen at the Ziegfeld Theater. I don't know how much was space was left in the apartment to move around in.

I stood there for a second wishing I had the guy's phone number, so I could wait for him to change the channel, then call him from my cell and say, "yo, put that shit back on!" Oh, well, another night perhaps.

I made a loop at 84th Street and decided to walk home. As I passed by a ski lodge-theme bar on 72nd Street--the other place where I got proofed--I saw a beefy man speaking on a cellphone who wore a t-shirt that read "Dip Me in Beer and Throw Me to the Drunk Girls."

I suspect the drunk girls would sober up very quickly if they saw this fellow coming toward them, but I wisely kept that opinion to myself.

I went home and watched my latest Netflix movie, Kontrol, a Hungarian film about workers on the Budepest subway station. I fell asleep, woke up drooling on myself, and had to rewind the middle of the picture.

I had been out for hours, traveled to Manhattan and back, and I only spoke briefly to three people: the one-eye lady with the cane, a bouncer and a bartender. And now I apparently caught some kind of stomach bug, as my guts are in a major uproar.

All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lovely As A Tree

"You know, a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at?"
--Ronald Reagan

The first tree on my block is gone now.

I came down my street after work tonight, saw the sky where there used to be green, and knew something was up.

The tree had been damaged during the great Bay Ridge tornado, knocked into a street light, and had to be taken down.

The street light is still there, though it seems to be leaning a little too much for my taste. I'll make sure to walk around it when I go up and down the block.

Of course, now that the tree is gone, I'm trying to remember what it looked like and coming up blank. But I still miss the hell out of it.

I went out last night to see the storm damage for myself. It didn't seem right that I, an ex-police reporter, would rely on mainstream media images of a catostrophe right in my own backyard.

I left my house at around 11:30 p.m., even though I had to go to work the next day. I worked over one block to Leif Ericson Park and I nearly keeled over. It looked more like Jurassic Park after the dinosaurs went on a three-day binge.

Nearly every tree was knocked down, some of them crushing the fence that surrounds the park. They were like fallen soldiers, struck down by an invincible enemy.

There was yellow tape blocking off most of the street and a few gawkers, like myself, were out surveying the damage. Some people used their phone cameras to record the wreckage.

I can only imagine what all this destruction must of sounded like to the people who live across the street from the park. One tree going down is loud enough, but--what?-10 or so trees going down must have sounded like the end of the world.

I remember when I used to play in that park, first on the swings and the slides, and then over to the baseball field, where I dropped so many balls and struck out so many times.

I convinced myself that I was a lousy ball player and that's all my subconsious mind had to hear. I was indeed a lousy ball player.

"Aw, right to ya! Right to ya!"

That's what kids used to shout if you missed an easy catch, saying that the ball was coming to you and thus there was no excuse for dropping it you worthless sack of monkey poop. Kids are pretty emotional about games.

There used to be a circle painted in section of the park that was divided into slices and bore the names of several countries.

Chance Meeting

One kid would take a rubber ball--a "spaldeen"--rear up his arm and shout, "I declare war onnnnn..." He'd named a country and then pound that ball straight down as hard as he could.

The thing would streak into the air and the kid standing on that particular country had to run, get the ball, and then take his turn to declare war on someone.

This was a different era, when kids were encouraged to play with guns--as opposed to getting real ones, like today--and attacking other countries seemed perfectly normal.

It looks like someone play the game for real. As in, "I declare war onnnnn...Bay Ridge!" Whoever it was dropped his giant spaldeen right on my neighborhood and then ran like hell.

I remember going to that park the day after my grandmother died, when I was in the fifth grade. One of the younger kids looked at me and said he knew my grandmother had died and then he fell silent. There are a lot of memories among those fallen trees.

I walked by the battered car dealership on Fifth Avenue and then walked up Fourth. The emergency crews were still out and some of the streets were still closed down. Two churchs along the avenue sustained heavy damage.

People were sitting outside of them near 68th Street while others were inside putting up wooden boards. I was thinking about going over to talk with them, but I didn't. And now I wish I had.

I was walking to the corner of Bay Ridge Avenue with the intent of crossing the street and going home when I saw a waitress standing outside a diner smoking a cigarettee and I realized I knew her.

She had been a waitress at Nick's on Fifth Avenue, the diner my father used to frequent a few years back. She recognized me and we exchanged greetings.

"How's your dad?" she asked.

I had to tell her that he died in January and she seemed genuinely sorry to hear about his passing. We talked about how sick he was with Alzheimer's and how he was probably better off.

"I remember when he used to drive me home," she said. "I was so scared. He'd cut a U-turn in the middle of the street..."

My father's horrible driving was something of a local legend. I told the waitress--I don't remember her name--that my father would drive over to Staten Island every day to visit my mother's grave and every day I'd call the house at 4 p.m. to make sure he was still alive.

On the few days he didn't pick up, I'd prayed my tail off that he hadn't killed himself or anyone else. He once left the car down by Shore Road with the windows open and the keys in the ignition.

He told me there was something wrong with the car, but I went down there and figured out quickly that there was something wrong with him. How that car wasn't stolen I'll never know, but I reached in through the window, opened the door and drove it the hell home.

Some of the other waitresses at Nick's told me that my father made passes at them. For some reason I felt compelled to ask this one if my dad had gotten frisky with her.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "He'd say 'do you want to come home with me?' I'd tell him, 'not today, maybe tomorrow.' And that was it. He said 'my wife told me I was a good lover.' "

You know I can't begin to imagine my mother saying something like that, but who's to say? Maybe she said it just to shut him up.

"He didn't mean anything by it," the waitress said. "He was harmless."

I could have told her stories proving otherwise, but I didn't see the point. My father is dead, the neighborhood is a mess, and we need to clean up. No time to dwell on the past.

I wished the waitress a good night and walked home. It was late, but I was glad I made the effort to see things for myself. You get a real understanding of the damage when you're out there, instead of looking at TV.

The images hit hard--and they're right to ya.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

One Very Ill Wind

I'm thinking of a scene in The Thief of Bagdad where Conrad Veidt, as the evil wizard Jaffer, uses his nasty magic to conjure up a monsoon.

Radiating pure ugly, he stands up on the deck of a ship and summons the storm like an attack dog to come forth destroy the hero.

"Wind," he shouts, waving his arms like a conductor leading an orchestra. "Wind!"

I suspect Conrad must have made a stop in Bay Ridge today because we were hit with an honest-to-God tornado. A Bay freaking Ridge. News reports are saying this is the first tornado to hit Brooklyn since 1889.

Can I get an "Auntie Em"?

The neighborhood looks like a war zone. A street lamp on my street is roped off as it is in danger of falling.

Trees are down in the park around the corner and on 68th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, and a church on 67th Street had its stain glass window destroyed by the brutal winds.

Officials are saying the storm ripped the roofs off 11 homes around here, lifted off the ground briefly, then yanked the roof off the car dealership at 66th and Fifth Ave. After that, the storm hit 58th Street and tore the roofs off five houses.

Subway service throughout the city has been thrown completely out of whack.

There were emergency vehicles and TV news trucks all over Fourth Avenue, helicopters are buzzing over our houses, and I've been handling phone calls from concerned friends and family.

Today's misery started early this morning with what I thought was a nasty thunderstorm. I was in bed and it sounded like artillery fire exploding all around my house.

The rain was coming down furiously, so I knew the backyard drain would get stuff up and creat what I like to call "Lake Lenihan"--a huge body of water that stretches into my neighbor's backyard and makes my home look like a house boat.

The storm seemed to subside and then I felt a breeze coming through the open window. Hmm, I thought, that feels good. And it did. The wind had a nice cleansing feeling to it and I thought the worst was over.

Then the wind got stronger...and stronger...and stronger still. I sat up in bed, listening to that powerful gust of wind and I wondered if we were being hit by a tornado.

But this ain't Kansas, Toto. We don't do tornadoes in Brooklyn. But it looks like a tornado has done us.

I got up to find the trains were chronically screwed up, so I did the smart thing: I called my boss and then went back to bed and didn't leave my house until around 10 a.m.

I got a first-hand look at the damage as I walked to the Bay Ridge Avenue station and thought about working from home. But I'm not the most popular guy in the office and I figured I could look like a hero if I braved the dicey transit system.

The R train was going over the bridge and by-passing lower Manhattan. So, after having a pleasant conversation with a young lady named Jessica who was sitting next to me, I got off at Pacific Street and walked into a crowd of swirling bodies, all of whom were looking for a way out of there.

People seemed fairly well-behaved given the circumstances. I think the entire city said to itself, "I'll get there when I get there," and then just chilled. I found a 2 train that, after some discussion, decided it was going to Wall Street and I hopped aboard.

I got to the office at around 11 a.m. and one my co-workers decided it was a good time to bust my chops.

"So, Rob," he said. "You finally decided to show up."

I actually forget what I said, but I am happy to report that my response did not contain any obscenities or evil spells. Lucky for that guy I'm not Conrad Veidt.

At my sister's urging, I contacted Tony, our go-to guy for all home repairs, and asked to him come by and fix the drain pipe, thus making Lake Lenihan a distant memory.

I thought this would be a 10-minute job. But then I'm the one who thought this morning's gentle wind was a welcome relief from the heat.

In all fairness, Tony was expecting an easy day at the office, too. Unfortunately, it was more like the Battle of the Bulge, as he had to use a snake to clean out the house's clogged pipes, a job that had not been done in at least 30 years.

As the Joker might say, this house needs an enema!

It's hot around here, hot as a bastard, and during the course of the evening, I had to grab hold of the snake and let the sucker do its thing. The long vibrating coil disappeared into my home's intestines and wailed away.

After I while, I let Tony take over and came upstairs to screw around with the computer. Tony emerged from the cellar shortly after 9:30 p.m., dripping in sweat, filth, and satisfaction. He had defeated the clog.

Now the clean-up begins. One of our local politicians was on TV looking to get disaster relief. I think we've earned it.

The City That Used to Be

Years ago I covered the aftermath of a violent storm that tore through Stroud Township in the Poconos.

I don't think it rated as a tornado, but it did a lot of damage. I drove around in this eerie quite--the calm after the storm--and talked to home owners whose houses had been damaged by the flying debris. They also had to deal with gawkers.

"We're going to sell tickets," one man told me, as he stood outside his battered home.

Another time I covered a wicked storm somewhere in Monroe County where a tree had come crashing down on a house. As I stood on the lawn with a photographer, an elderly man came outside and stared at us.

"How are you doing?" I asked lamely, meaning it as a greeting.

"How am I doing? the man repeated in disbelief and nodded in the direction of his crushed roof.

He didn't actually say, "how do you think I'm doing, shit-for-brains," but that was heavily implied.

Of course, the biggest storm I ever covered was Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Fla. I had gone down there with Bill Agriss, a trucker with Roadway and a hell of a nice guy, to interview former Pocono-area residents who been caught up in the disaster.

The trip was a blast in itself, as I deepest Dixie with wearing my Brooklyn cap. No one said anything about it until we got to Valdosta, Ga., where the head of the Roadway facility there just glared at me.

"Brooklyn?" he said in mock horror.

When I arrived, I interview a very nice retired banker who told me how, during the storm, he and his friends had to hold on to the door of his house to keep it from flying away. And then he cried when he told me how neighbors had come out to help each other.

Trailer parks got the worst of it. They were picked up and twisted like aluminum cans. Homes were boarded up and adorned with threatening messages like "Looters Will Be Shot."

The National Guard patroled the streets and I spent one night in the cab of tractor trailer.

"If you have to go out at night...don't," the local Salvation Army commander told me.
I took his advice very seriously.

One of the residents of the army's shelter in Miami summed it up best as he drove me around.

"Homestead," he said, "is the city that used to be."

The superintendent of the National Park in Homestead had just moved down from the Poconos a month before and saw his home and office destroyed in the same night.

He took for a ride through the park and pulled over by a lagoon to show me some of the devastation up close.

"Maybe we'll see a gator," he said with a strange kind of enthusiasm.

Maybe you'll see a gator, pal, I thought. If I see so much as a ripple in that, I'm running my ass back to Brooklyn.

When we got back into his Land Rover, the vehicle was filled with clouds of buzzing gnats. His solution was to open the door a crack, floor the pedal, and create a vacuum to suck the little buggers right the hell out.

"This is the only way to do it," he said over the engine's roar.

I learned later that one of my fellow reporters had actually camped out at the park in Homestead years before. Why anyone would willing go to this place that reminded of Devil's Island, I don't know, but I don't think he saw a gator either.

I went to a tent city and interviewed a woman who had lost her home. She was a suburban housewife who had her entire life turned upside down and looked so out of place in this hastily-assembled camp.

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans," she said.

On my last night in Miami I stayed at the Salvation Army's shelter and ate my breakfast with men who had been caught up in their own personal storms, battered around by the devastating force of drugs and alcohol.

I met one man who was former New Yorker and, upon seeing my cap, he called me "Brooklyn" as if it were my name.

That trip was a great learning experience for me. Not just as a reporter, though that was certainly part of it, but as a human being, as well. I met some very decent people, people had gone through the kind of adversity I couldn't even imagine.

I met people who had lost control of their lives and were trying to rejoin the world. I learned how fortunate I was to have my life and family, and how easily what you hold dear can be taken away.

So Bay Ridge is still standing tonight. And for that I am very thankful indeed.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bad Words

I saw another story about Don Imus in the news today, but I just skimmed over it.

I never liked that stupid bastard even before he and his crew of bootlickers made those comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

I often referred to him as "Dumb Anus" because of his habit of saying some incredibly stupid things.

In fact, the Rutgers thing angered me because, while I'm glad Imus got bounced, there are a lot of rappers who have made a living out of saying a lot worse about women than the broken down radio clown ever did and these pigs aren't out of work.

And spare me that crap about the situation being different because the rappers, like the ball players, are black. Filth is still filth, no matter who says it.

So, no, I was not sorry to see the plug pulled on that bum. And I wouldn't miss all those right-wing psychos spewing their filth onto the airwaves on a daily basis. If the Anus has to go, then the hemroids should join him.

The radio host John Gambling died a few years ago and, as I read his obit, I thought how much the AM band has changed.

Back when I was a kid, the AM radio personalities were, for the most part, friendly guys who spoke to their listeners as if they were their buddies.

Jim Lowe was one of my dad's favorites. He used to call speak to you directly, "hey, you old spotted dog." I know that sounds offensive, but it was really very affectionate.

After speaking with a caller, sometimes he'd say "by the power vested in me by no one in particular, I give tomorrow off." It was corny and old-fashioned and I always dismissed it as "old guy's radio."

But after hearing the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and other such vermin, I wish the old spotted dog would coming trotting back to the dial.

Mamma Mea Culpa

Now I find myself in an uncomfortable situation about my own words and I want to address it. In my last post I talked about a run-in I had with a former boss and quoted what I had said to him in the heat of anger.

While complaining about my old paper, I said "I've seen more tolerance among fundamentalist mullahs than I've seen around here."

Yes, that's what I said--more than 10 years ago in a fit of rage. But looking at it now, I realize how offensive and hurtful those words can be to innocent, well-meaning people.

The quote is accurate, but I wish I hadn't repeated it. Or, failing in that, I should have down a better job of putting it context and disavowed those sentiments.

God knows there are plenty of examples of Christians behaving badly--are you reading me, Dubya?--without me having to insult other faiths.

I was tempted to go back and delete the quote entirely and just pretend it never happened. This is the Internet, right? Press a few buttons and stuff just disappears.

But I don't think that's the way to address this. Deleting something doesn't mean it's been erased from people's minds. I am (or used to be) a good Catholic boy and I know that you must confess your sins and do penance.

I have changed since that time I uttered those hostile words; I have grown as a person. I now live in a heavily Muslim neighborhood so I should be more sensitive.

But most importantly, someone of the Muslim faith has come into my life and this person means so much to me. I'm sick at the thought that I might have hurt this person's feelings with my thoughtless words.

I know what that sounds like: "Some of my best friends are Muslims..." But it's true this time. One of my best friends really is a Muslim.

So to all Muslims, and to you especially my dear, dear friend, I am sorry for that offensive quote and I would ask you to please accept my apology. Please use the powers vested in you by no one in particular to forgive me.

I'm really not that bad a person once you get to know old spotted dog.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Kangaroo Jack-Off

So now Rupert Murdoch owns my old newspaper.

Not The Wall Street Journal, though the right-wing media-mashing mummy owns that, too. I’m talking about the Pocono Record, where I spent five years of my life, from 1988 to 1993.

Since Murdoch was allowed to buy Dow Jones—huh?—he gets all of its subsidiaries, including Ottaway Newspapers, which owns the Record.

So, in addition to snagging a national newspaper, Murdoch’s oily tentacles are reaching right down to the small and mid-sized markets.

Now the man who helped George "Mission Accomplished" Bush sell the lie in Iraq will have an even greater reach, a tighter hold on news outlets. What a country.

Upon hearing the news, I fired off an e-mail to a fellow Pocono Record survivor, which was slugged “Headless Corpse Found in Topless Hot Tub.”

I wasn’t very happy at the Record, which, in the area of understatements, is like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground. I’m no longer associated with the place, so I could say “good, let Murdoch have it.” But it bothers me.

I hate what Murdoch and his mutts have done to journalism, pushing that "fair and balanced" crap while spewing the rabid Republican line. And we still have zipper necks walking around reciting the "liberal media" mantra, as if it were actually true.

I wish the goddamn media were liberal. Then reporters might have stood up to these clowns and exposed the war for the pack of lies it really is.

But no, the mainstream media rolled over and repeated the Bush Abomination's falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction and links to Osama.

A few years ago I entertained the thought of working for the Record again as a web editor. I was out of work at the time and desperate to find a job, but I later found employment elsewhere.

During my interview there the editor told me that Dow Jones had been taking more interest in the Ottaway newspapers because the home office realized they were bringing in a lot of money. I expect that sort of pressure to intensify under Murdoch.

Like pretty much the rest of the world, I under-estimated Rupert Murdoch at every turn. When he bought The New York Post back in the Seventies, I figured it would go belly-up in no time and we'd never hear of this loser again.

I didn’t believe a paper that ran headlines like “Headless Corpse in Topless Bar” would last long in this or any other town.

The Post is still here, of course, even though it’s losing money. And the Pox News empire is spreading like some awful disease, with the cable network and the soon-to-be-launched business channel--which will benefit hugely from having the Journal under its belt.

There used to be laws against this kind of thing, before, apparently, Murdoch threw wads of money at politicians—the ones who are supposed to represent us—and made those pesky regulations go away.

The Murdoch gang are the idiots who gave us front page images of “weasels” and “surrender monkeys” for those not stupid enough to believe Bush’s fabrications about Iraq.

Brass City Bounce

When I left the Pocono Record, I went the Waterbury Republican-American, a family-owned newspaper in Connecticut. Here is where I learned to loathe the expression “family-owned.”

This was a dysfunctional family, which had inherited the paper from a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, but who were not journalists themselves. The publisher was a cranky old nutcase who dressed impeccably and screamed like a mental patient whenever he didn't get his way.

He used to give the business to one of his sons on a daily basis, shrieking and yelling about God knows what, while the poor schlump just stood there and took it.

Once I was talking to my father back in Brooklyn and he heard the old bastard right through the phone lines.

"Hey, tell that guy to shut up," he said.

This was rather ironic as my father was a pretty good yeller himself. I guess he resented the competition.

None of the upper management ever mentioned this man by name. They would always say "The Publisher," like some people say "The Pontiff." I've never seen that at any other paper I've worked at and I'm wondering if it's just a New England thing.

The Publisher was a staunch Republican, as the name of the paper implies, and he thought nothing of slanting or distorting the paper's coverage to suit his political agenda.

Stories that management didn't want to see were routinely scrubbed, rewritten or ignored.

Prior to my arrival, a group of reporters got together and tried to reason with this old dinosaur--oh, Jesus--and told him that they were concerned about the paper's coverage of the upcoming elections.

The Publisher's response? Why, he started screaming, of course. From what I'm told, he went on about the paper being "my rice bowl," which only served to confuse the matter. I wonder if Rupert Murdoch says things like that.

Since the mayor of Waterbury was a Democrat, the city hall reporter was expected to dig up anything and everything about the town's chief executive and make him look bad.

It got to a point where Connecticut Magazine dubbed a negative article about the mayor's landlord as the worst news story of the year. Then The Columbia Journalism Review included our paper in their "Stars and Darts" section--under "darts" of course.

In response, one the editors, a four star loser who gave incompetence a bad name, wrote a letter defending the Republican's atrocious "reporting."

Nothing to See Here

The CJR dutifully printed the letter and then included a response essentially saying that, no, your paper really does suck and here's a few other reasons we forgot to mention before. Gosh, we were all so proud.

I arrived at the Waterbury paper just after the management had successfully driven out the union representing the reporters. I knew nothing of this and the editors neglected to tell me that during the interviews.

During the holidays, a former reporter who was hated by management came up from Florida and we all went out to a local bar to have a good time; or so I thought.

The only trouble was several editors showed up, too, and just stood there watching us, like KGB agents taking names of potential traitors.

The atmosphere in that bar was so toxic, I told a friend that it was like Christmas in Bosnia.

The place was really Fox News in miniature, only I didn't realize it then. I didn't think this kind of blatant mangling of the facts could exist anywhere else but in a small town. Now it's happening on a national level.

I was popular with management there for a while, but that faded. There was a definite "your turn in the barrel" atmosphere about the place.

The chief henchman--we'll call him Bill--created an environment of fear and resentment. They didn't want to fire people and pay unemployment, so they instead drove people out by making them so miserable they would quit.

They did this to a good friend of mine, with this Bill character actually telling her "nobody here likes you." So we're back in junior high, are we? Being disliked by those pricks was something to proud of, like winning a Purple Heart.

Management had a bloated lackey who helped break the union and was rewarded with some kind of IT post, even though your average high school geek knew more about computers than this lowlife.

If this pig--we'll call him Chris--wanted to smear somebody, all he had to do was say they were trying to bring back the union. That's it all took, a little bit of small town McCarthyism can work some real voodoo.

Every day this blimp would waddle into the office with a huge Taco Bell bag clutched in his paws. I believe he was driven out of the place, finally, like some evil spirit, but not before doing a great deal of damage to good people.

Reporters who covered City Hall quickly looked to get off the beat, rather than carry out management's attacks on the Democratic administration. City Hall is arguably the hottest beat at any paper, but here people were bailing from it like it was made of radioactive material.

The paper did everything it could to influence elections. This resulted in the election of John Rowland as governor, who was later convicted of corruption charges; and to the installation of Phil Giordano as mayor, who is currently serving jail time for having sex with an underage girl. Way to go, Republican-American.

I still remember that election day when Giordano was elected. The atmosphere in the newsroom was miserable; morale was so low it reached down to Rupert Murdoch's home country.

Bill, who by that time had been diagnosed with some form of cancer, was telling the Publisher that the police would be pulling reporters over and yanking them out of their cars in retaliation for the paper's fair and balanced coverage. Very scary, very dramatic, and also completely untrue.

Even though he was dying, Bill kept dragging himself into the paper. I hated the guy, but I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Of course I mocked him behind his back, referring to him as "Jiffy Pop Head" because his face had been bloated by medication. God forgive me.

One time I watched Bill literally stagger to his office, listing to one side of the hall and then to the other because he was so weak. The Publisher saw this and said to me, "Gee, Bill isn't doing much dancing, is he?" I couldn't come up with a response.

I'm sorry to say I lost my temper with my boss, the business editor, because I had complained about being reassigned to the boondocks for two days a week. I got so angry I started pounding the table and shouting.

"I've seen more tolerance among fundamentalist mullahs than I've seen around here," I bellowed.

That was cowardly, as the editor was only trying to survive in this madhouse. And this was part of the problem. People were afraid to fight the power because they didn't want to be the next one on the hit list.

There was a woman there who was always, I mean, always sucking up to management. She actually told Bill at a lunch time meeating that "I have a roof over my head because of this paper."

I was waiting for her to fall to her knees and shout, "Oh, Lawdy, I thanks you so much Masta Bill!"

When we asked her, "hey, what the fuck...?" she'd get all defensive.

"I've got a kid and a mortgage," she'd declare.

Yeah, you're really setting a great example for that kid, aren't you, honey? Don't have talent, just brown-nose your way to the top of this hellhole.

I eventually got transferred to the Naugatuck office, Bill finally died, and I got the hell out of that awful paper. And Rupert Murdoch went on to buy the world.

That rice bowl is looking awfully dirty lately. I think it needs to be flushed.