Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I came extremely close to getting a tattoo on Friday.

Two days later, I came extremely close to getting run over by a motorcycle.

More than just coincidence? Well, probably not, but I’ll connect the dots anyway.

On Friday I was drunk, blitzed, wasted, and polluted. Tattoos are often a by-product of this condition, or so I’m told. You wake up with a splitting headache and discover he image of Rutherford B. Hayes tattooed to your keester.

I was sober on Sunday, but I was preoccupied, concerned that I might have lost my latest Netflix movie.

The schmuck on the motorcycle may not have been sober, as he sailed through a red light, but I'm pretty sure he had tattoos. I don’t know if he belongs to Netflix.

I started my weekend by going to a Meetup event at the Crime Scene bar on the Bowery. For those who don’t know, the Bowery has changed a lot since the days of Slip Mahoney and Horace Debussy Jones.

It’s not the end of the line or the bottom of the barrel, where wayward drunks either cleaned up their act or shuffle off this mortal coil.

The Bowery is now yuppified and chi-chi—in other words, young, and everybody seems to be clutching a cell phone and sporting a tattoo.

The Bowery Mission is still there, but I wonder how long it will last in what is quickly becoming prime real estate. Let us pray.

All We Are Saying...

I had joined this particular Meetup group the same way I had joined all the others. I pressed a few buttons on my keyboard and I was in.

The trouble with this is that you can quickly become bombarded with e-mail invites to all sorts of events that you have neither the time, interest, nor energy to attend.

I keep thinking I have to trim my list of Meetups, but then I worry I’ll miss out on…something. Plus I’m not good at break-ups, even if it is with a Web site.

This latest event featured Eighties music, which I enjoy, and it was supposed to start right after to work.

I liked that, since if there’s any gap in time, my comfort zone alert system will find an excuse to go home, crash in front of the DVD player and watch the latest offering from Netflix.

So I walked in and did my usual social fly-over, where I look around and decide the place is too crowded, too noisy, too dark, and too young. I walked out, declaring that this was not for me.

But I realized within a few steps that I had absolutely no other plans for the evening and that I would most assuredly wind up in front of the TV.

I looked at the bar and heard my mother say “give it a chance,” her standard line when I didn’t want to go parties or other events she thought I might enjoy.

Then I saw a woman who seemed to be in my age bracket walk into the bar and figured, oh, what the hell?

I went in, pulled up a seat and started putting away glass after glass of New Castle beers. I rarely drink at all, and I drink beer even more rarely because it makes me feel so bloated.

But on this night, I was sucking up the suds like I owned stock in a brewery. The music blared out the likes of “Jump Around” and “Down Under” and I kept ordering New Castles.

I told myself to slow down, you’re too old for this kind of thing, and you’re going to regret it tomorrow. But did I listen? Hell, no.

I barely spoke to anyone and when I staggered back to the men’s room I saw the woman I had followed at the opposite end of the bar, deep in conversation with a goateed man.

Like the man says, if you’re slow, you blow. But I think I got hammered to avoid speaking with this or any other woman in the place. Self-sabotage is great for keeping you single.

I left the Crime Scene before I ended up as a chalk outline on the floor. I called various friends and relatives on my cell phone because this is something drunks do…before they get a tattoo on their asses.

My sister told me to go home before I got rolled, but I headed over to St. Mark’s Place, which was crammed with people hanging outside cafes, bars, and tattoo parlors.

I don’t know when my fascination with tattoos started. My mother always hated them and even though she's gone, I'm reluctant to go against her wishes.

When I was growing up, only ex-cons, sailors, and guys named Vinnie had tattoos.

I remember seeing this huge construction worker in a local deli years ago with a tattoo of Dopey from the Seven Dwarves tattooed into on his forearm.

I tried to imagine what motivated this action. Did the guy fly out of bed one morning and say, hey, I just gotta have Dopey’s likeness carved into my body right now?

Needle Me

It’s a little different today, where the tattoo is now standard equipment on most people. Mixed martial artists are covered in so much ink, I think their respective tattoo artists should get in the cage and fight as well.

Women are big on tattoos now, something that you didn’t see in my day. (Christ, I sound old. Better have another beer.)

I was talking with a woman in my gym class one time and she told that it was tough making the class because of her unusual schedule.

“Oh, really?” I asked. “What do you do?”

“I’m a dominatrix,” she said, the way some people say "I'm an accountant."

I tried to play it cool, but it was impossible. I asked her what she put down on her income tax form under “Occupation.”

"Freelancer," she said.

It was then that I noticed she had a pixie tattooed on her arm and, looking closer, I saw the thing was holding a cat o’nine tails. I haven't seen that woman in a while.

While I was volunteering at the Brooklyn Film Fesitval a few years ago, a young woman walked up to our table with the face of a woman tattooed to her neck. It looked like she was carrying a spare head in case the first one went flat.

If you've ever seen a horror movie called The Manster you'll understand why a second head would make me nervous.

I never did get that tattoo on Friday night. I walked into one place, looked at the samples of the walls, looked at their whole library of images that was set up on series of hanging frames, and nothing inspired me.

There were images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, Celtic symbols, clawing panthers, roaring lions and pugnacious leprechauns. But they all seemed cartoonish and rather cheesy. I don't need a Looney Tunes version of the Messiah on my chest.

Plus what do you do with a tattoo once you've gotten it? Just stare at the thing, assuming it's in a place you can see? The process seems painful and worse yet, I'd probably look like some old guy trying to show how cool he was.

I'm not young, my name isn’t Vinnie and I’m not an ex-con. It was time to go home.

I spent a good deal of Saturday recovering from the New Castle invasion, and got up Sunday with a clear head, except for the fact that one of my Netflix DVD’s was missing.

This was like a magic act. I left my house with two DVD’s and when I got to the mailbox I only had one. It bothered me so much I came to think of the company as “Domi-netflix.”

I walked home, retracing my steps as much as possible and I still couldn’t find the damn thing. I’d have to report it missing and I hope that won’t get me in trouble with the home office.

I went to the gym on Park Slope, had a dominatrix-free workout, and headed home. I was crossing the street at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street when this loser on a bike came riding up to the corner.

The light was just turning red, so I stepped out into the crosswalk, assuming the guy would stop. Not exactly...

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” the leather-clad ass-clown shouted, as he zipped around me and turned right.

“Sorry, brother,” I said, convinced I was in the wrong.

Only I wasn’t. There’s a sign clearly stating that drivers must yield to pedestrians before making a turn.

So I didn’t get a tattoo, but I didn’t get run over by a motorcycle. But I did find the Netflix movie.

More than just coincidence? I’m not sure. Apparently I had mailed both DVD's but somehow convinced myself I had just dropped one in the mailbox.

This makes me a little nervous because it sounds like I'm losing my marbles. My aunt says I'm just stressed and I hope she's right.

But I'm glad I didn't lose the movie. I was worried some bikers were going to break into my house and tattoo “Netflix” into my forehead.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Don't Tase Me, Bro!"

Okay, so last night I watch the video of the guy getting zapped by cops while ranting at John Kerry.

“Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” he shouts for all of You Tube to hear.

I think I hear a country song title happening here. You know, some juke box lament about a guy being zapped by his ex-wife’s lover.

The guy could be just trying to sneak a peek at his ex-love when the boyfriend comes up from behind and lights him up like a Christmas tree.

Don’t tase me, bro,” our hero could wail, “I only wanted to see her one last time…

Hey, I like the sound of that. Somebody get me a banjo.

Remember that famous Beatles’ song, “Tase, Tase Me and I’ll Tase You”? No? Maybe I’ve got the title wrong. It sure sounds like a lot of my relationships.

If nothing else, we could at least get a t-shirt out of that phrase, printed in jittery letters to make it feel like you’re getting shocked while you read it.

Then I read about an armless artist killing a romantic rival with a head butt.

Yes, you read correctly: an armless artist really did head butt his girlfriend’s ex-lover and now the poor guy is dead.

Sort of makes “Headless Corpse in Topless Bar” look rather tame, doesn’t it?

On the very same web page I read about the bald guy who was arrested for stealing hair replacement products from a store in Ossining, N.Y.

Hey, I feel the guy’s pain, but had I been there I would have shouted, “Don’t do it, bro! This crap costs too much and it doesn’t work anyway!”

At least he had the sense to commit a crime in the home of Sing-Sing Prison, so his ride to the pokey will be relatively short and his tasing is likely to be long.

Perhaps he could share a cell with the screaming loser who called the feds to report that someone stole 31 kilograms of cocaine that he stashed outside a Boy Scout camp in Washington State.

If the cops didn’t tase this guy, they sure as hell should have. Maybe he and the Hairless Avenger can sit behind bars and tase each other all day long.

Take It Up With Consumer Affairs

Should I mention the 50-year-old woman who approached a sheriff's deputy and complained that a drug dealer had just sold her "bad" crack?

Good for you, honey, don’t settle for that lousy stuff; demand the quality crack! This is America, damn it.

Tase away, tase away, tase way Dixie Land…

Then I see that mammoth dung in the arctic is melting due to global warming. Like we don’t have enough crap in this world already, now we’re getting a blast from the scatological past. Some shit.

And, oh, yes, I almost forgot. O.J. is back. Now there’s someone I could tase all the doo-dah day, especially if the Taser is hooked up to the Grand Coulee Dam.

This latest incident is going to stink more than defrosted mammoth dung. A dozen years after being cut loose by a racist jury, this psychotic pig is back in the news.

Lucky us!

I remember an argument I had with a fellow reporter, who happened to be African-American, after O.J. skipped on the double-homicide rap.

Somehow I was a racist for complaining about the verdict. And when I mentioned how domestic violence often leads to murder, this twit—an alleged journalist—had the nerve to argue with me.

I was a cop reporter for five years and most of the murders I covered started with some guy beating the crap out of his wife or girlfriend.

But domestic violence doesn't lead to murder; no, of course not, it leads to peace and harmony…and the occasional tasing.

There was a case in the Scranton-area years ago where a white man was accused of murdering his African-American wife.

Forget about bloody gloves and DNA, the police in this case didn't even have a body. All they had was a detailed account of the murder and disposal of the corpse the husband had written.

He claimed this document was actually a novel and not a blueprint for his wife's demise. Sure thing, big guy.

Did I support that bastard? Did I where a t-shirt calling him my hero? Hell, no. I didn't believe a word the son-of-a-bitch was saying and I was glad when he was convicted. Yes, that's right. He actually went to jail for his crimes. Amazing, no?

The good news is that we won’t have to put up with Johnnie Cochran, scumbag extraordinaire, who had the decency to finally die and leave us alone.

All the tasing in the world won’t bring him back. Maybe they can set up a phone line from Hell so he can listen in. If the glove won't fit...

The war goes on, Bush is still president, mammoth poop is on the rise, and O.J. is back in the news.

All is well, bro. Now excuse me while I go tase myself.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Irons in the Fire

I took the wrong train home from my shrink's office the other night.

I can't help but wonder what Sigmond Freud would have to say about such behavior.

Dummpkofp! Read der fuhking signs!

Yeah, he might have said something like that. Or he might have said taking the wrong train signifies my reluctance to return home and face my problems.

He might have said that taking a train into a Harlem might reveal suicidal tendencies.

I think I'm just tired. In any case, I felt like a real out-of-towner when I saw those street numbers climbing in time with my blood pressure.

I thought I should wait and get off at an express station. This way I could remain underground and possibly save my hide.

I've got the unlimited Metrocard, so there was no chance of losing a fare, but you have to wait about 20 minutes after using the card before you can use it again. Otherwise people would be buzzing their families through.

I had no idea when the next express stop was coming up and I might have been halfway to Montreal before the doors opened. I finally bailed at 145th Street, crossed the avenue and waited for the downtown train. Luckily, my Metrocard came through.

I was a little nervous and jumping at every noise. Spotting a huge rat on the tracks didn't help my mood any.

But to be honest, all I saw was people, working class people, students, mothers with children, who just happened to be a little darker than I am.

The downtown train finally showed up and I buried my nose in my book--part of the reason I got screwed up in the first place--and didn't look up until we hit Atlantic Avenue, where I walked over to the Pacific Street station and was greeted by another rat on the tracks.

I don't think it was the same one I saw uptown, but anything's possible.

Oh, Yeah?

On Saturday I went to my gym in Union Square and witnessed one of those ugly incidents that reminds us all that New York hasn't been converted to Candyland.

I saw this guy with sunglasses and a pork pie hat on the street yelling at an Hispanic woman in a shoe store. From what I could see, the guy's neck and shoulders were completely covered in tattoos.

I don't know what the fight about, but as the Tattoo Guy walked up 14th Street yelling and cursing over his shoulder, the shoe store lady followed him, yelling and cursing right back.

She, in turn, was being followed by a young Hispanic man, probably a relative, who seemed ready to trade punches with Tattoo Guy. Every time it got really heated, Tattoo Guy would take off his hat and spread his arms in a "bring it on" gesture.

Each time the woman would push her son--I believe--away and tell him to back off. Then she'd continue cursing and yelling at the human billboard.

You know, if she really wanted to end this thing and avoid any bloodshed, she just would have gone back into the store and taken her son with her. But she seemed really bent on getting the last word and would provoke Tattoo Guy even more.

Nobody in this little group seemed to be wrapped too tight, but Tattoo Guy seemed most likely to turn homicidal. The scene had a kind of "Taxi Driver" feel to it.

Eventually the argument seemed to peter out and I had to get moving. But it was one of those nasty encounters that make me think of how ugly New York used to be 30 years ago.

This is a kind of reverse nostalgia, where I look back at the past with dread and look at the present fondly. It's also wishful thinking.

I've been feeling kind of stressed lately, more so than usual. I don't know what I'm doing now or what I plan to do next. I have more irons in the fire than the village blacksmith and I can't seem to find my rear end with my two hands.

I saw a guy on the subway the other day with a t-shirt reading: "Ask Me What It's Like to Be A Freak." I don't know have to ask, I already know. And it isn't very nice.

The problem is I have too many projects. I just started the second section of my solo performer class, the follow-up to the course I took earlier this year.

The teacher is great and my classmates are cool. In addition to doing eight minutes on stage, I also have 30 minutes--one half-hour, people--to do my own show.

This in addition to making my short film, finishing the novel, fighting terrorism, meeting Miss Right, eliminating poverty, splitting the atom, learning Aramaic, and trying to hold down a job.

I keep telling myself I'm going to sort everything out, but the great plan hasn't materialized yet. And now I can't find my way around the subway.

With all those irons in the fire, I'm getting overheated. And it occurs to me now that "irons" was an old timey term for handcuffs.

Hot Buns

I took a break from the self-inflicted misery and went to Long Island with my aunt and sister to see my Uncle Walter, my mom's brother.

Walter was a bomber pilot during World War II and he was planning to go to his unit's reunion in Washington, D.C.

This get-together is bittersweet, as this will be the last reunion for this group--ever. The members are getting too old to travel to these meetings.

It's the kind of realism that can be very painful. And the fact that the reunion is taking place at the end of the summer makes it all the more poignant.

My aunt told us how, during the war, my mom had knitted my uncle a sweater while he was in the army. The sweater was too long, she said, going down to my uncle's keester.

But the bombers lacked insulation and were very cold, so my uncle was grateful for every inch of that thing.

I like the image of my mother knitting away, doing anything she can to help her brother. If I know my mother, she must have been worried every waking second about Walter's safety.

She was also obsessed with the cold, so it's no surprise she'd be knitting a sweater. Whenever we bought winter coats, she'd tell us, "make sure it covers your backside."

While visiting us from college, my brother Jim decided he'd give my mother a hard time.

"I would," he said, "but all the girls tell me I have such a great ass..."

My aunt and sister told me about the time my parents went to a reunion of my father's army unit. I was shocked because I have absolutely no memory of this and I always thought he had no use for such affairs.

My aunt told me that my father's army buddies approached my mother during the event and spoke very highly of my father, praising him for looking out for his men. I would have loved to have heard those stories myself.

My next solo piece is going to be about my father and the war and I'd like to get as much information as I can.

We had dinner had a restaurant located on the water and it was just beautiful. The weather was a little brisk, warning us of the winter to come, but there was still enough warmth and sunshine to enjoy the day.

Not long ago I found a video of Jerry Orbach singing "Try to Remember" from The Fantasticks and I was touched by the line "deep in December it's nice to remember, without the hurt the heart is hollow."

The line acknowledges that pain is not only a part of life, but a necessity; that we can't truly live without having suffered.

Uncle Walter and his comrades are deep into their December and they must have a lot of hurt after all they've seen and done.

We caught the train back to the city and I suggested getting car service from Penn Station. I'm a cheap bastard, but I didn't relish the idea of getting onto the R train after riding in from Ronkonkama.

Plus Walter sprang for dinner, so I figured we could treat ourselves. The car showed up a few minutes after we got in and we all got a ride home.

I didn't have to worry about catching the wrong train or running into any rats...unless they learn how to drive.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Special Day

I took my annual walk around Ground Zero today.

The weather is terrible today, overcast and rainy, such a stark contrast to Sept. 11, 2001, when the sky was so perfectly blue you’d swear we’d never hear from winter again.

This foul day seems more suitable for mourning.

There were thousands of people there, of course, milling around the spot where the World Trade Center was destroyed six years ago.

I wanted to go to the exact spot on Liberty Plaza where I stood when the second plane hit the south tower, but the cops had blocked the area off.

I went during my lunch break and missed the official ceremonies that had taken place earlier in the day, but there was still a lot going on.

I followed a steady beat emanating from the area of the PATH station, and saw a group of people holding up their fingers in the peace sign. A group of drummers, whom I assumed were Buddhists, were seated on the ground hitting on their drums.

There were flowers and balloons attached to the fence around the future site of the Freedom Tower, but right now it’s still a hole in the ground.

I saw one young man in camouflage shorts gripping the fence in anguish, his head down, the only visible identifying mark was the large tattoo on his right arm.

I walked around, speaking to a friend who had called me on my cell phone, and came back a few minutes later. The tattooed man was still there, his face still turned toward the fence.

I wondered what his story was: did he lose someone on that terrible day? Was he firefighter or a relative of one of the victims? But not knowing gives him a more universal appeal; he exists as a symbol of grief in a way that makes me think of The Pietà.

As I left I saw a woman in the protest area holding a sign that read “A Nation of Sheep Being Led by Wolves.” I smiled, gave her the thumbs up, and she smiled back.

It's amazing: the people protesting this senseless war in Iraq are kept in a pen, while the people who brought this nightmare upon us are allowed to walk around free. Only in George Bush's America.

Today would have been my father’s birthday 86th birthday. He died in January and he’s buried with my mother. Monday was their anniversary and this is the first one they’ll spend their special day together since my mother died in 2002.

I stopped by Trinity Church and caught part of the noon time mass. As people went up for communion, I thought of that young man with the tattoo and recalled a time I was in church with my father.

I was very young and I remember looking at my dad after he had returned from receiving communion. He got down on the kneeler and put his face down in his hands. He looked like he was having a spiritual experience.

North Tower Tales

As my sister and I clean out our family home, we keep finding all sorts of strange artifacts. The other week I found an old visitor’s pass I had gotten at the trade center.

I was out of the work at the time and CNN, my old company, had set up the victims of their corporate bloodletting with an outplacement company located on the 21st floor. I guess this was supposed to ease their collective conscious.

Security was tight after the first bombing and you had to show photo ID and pose for a day-pass each time you went in. I didn't think anyone would be able to strike at the towers again.

The visitor’s pass is dated March 31, 2001. Thousands of people, and the towers themselves, had less than six months to live.

I had gotten a job at Goldman Sachs by Sept. 11, and that’s why I was in Liberty Plaza when the planes slammed into the towers.

During the first few days after the attacks, I started thinking about the people at that outplacement company. They were nice to me and quite helpful. So I called their main office and left a message.

"I hope you guys are all right," I said.

No one ever called back, but I wasn't expecting that. I just wanted to do something at a time when everything seemed so hopeless.

That was my second brush with the World Trade Center. Years before, in the early Eighties, I had worked for a company located on the 92nd Floor of the north tower.

I hated everything about that place and I didn't stay with that outfit for very long. I still remember the rocket-blast ride up the elevator, which roared up about 70 stories before its first stop. And then it went higher.

As scary as going up was, coming down was even worse. I felt like I was falling through that elevator shaft. My co-workers told me they had been in the express elevator one time when it fell several stories.

On windy days, the building would actually creak and move slightly. I was told this was part of the design.

We had some kind of emergency while I was working there. We could smell smoke and we had to take the stairs down several floors. People were making jokes about it, but we were just a little nervous.

In one of my few celebrity sightings, I saw Muhammad Ali in the lobby on my lunch break on time. He was walking with another man and he did his best not to make eye contact with anyone.

He had retired by then, with no hint of the bravado that he displayed in his heyday. Now he just looked drawn and tired.

I keep thinking that this day should be different somehow, that we should be acting differently, thinking differently. But as I look at the small screen on my office telephone, I see the date, "SEP 11," displayed there like it is any other day.

As I am writing this, just blocks from Ground Zero, I can hear chanting coming up from Broadway.

I guess its protestors and part of me wants to be there with them. There’s so much to protest, starting with this war, which the wolves began by using 9/11 as a launching pad.

My God, even a wolf wouldn't sink that low.

But just for today, I’d like to put my head down and pray for those who died on this day six years ago.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Boardwalk Sally

Can somebody show me the way off this island?

I went back to Coney Island again last night through yet another of my infamous nutzoid dreams.

Maybe I should sell tickets to my brain, stand outside my subconscious mind and shout like a boardwalk barker, "hurry, hurry, hurry, step right up and see the Amazing Bizarro Boy and his demented dreams!"

The setting was no doubt related to the video shoot I did out there last week, and, the memories of visiting my father in a nursing home on the boardwalk.

That all makes sense: it’s what happened within the dream that has me going in circles.

The dream place doesn’t really look like Coney, but somehow I know that’s where I am. I am with a woman, an older lady with tattoos and rather bad teeth—perhaps a view missing, it’s hard to recall—thank God.

She wears a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans. One notch above being homeless, she is clearly a victim of some kind of substance abuse.

Sounds enticing, no? Well, apparently I thought so because—this is the dream, remember—I start putting the moves on her.

I am nuzzling her neck, where I quickly learn that she needs a bath. But the smell doesn’t stop me, nothing seems to stop me, as I bury my mug into this woman like we’re about to be swept out to sea.

And she didn't seem to be that into it, as I recall she had an awkward look on her face. Of course I was molesting her on the boardwalk in broad daylight, which might have been a factor.

At sound point, ever the tactful, I actually tell this woman that she stinks. Oddly enough, she gets angry and starts yelling at me.

I guess I could have phrased it better, but she was pretty rank…and I still tried to have my way with her.

I’m as randy as the next guy…maybe the next three guys…but she clearly wasn’t my type. I wish I could dream about getting jiggy with a supermodel.

I suspect this character has her origins in the two women from Springfield, Ma. I met during my recent weekend trip to the Berkshires. One had a faint goatee and the other, by her own admission, was learning disabled.

I wasn’t interested in them in the real world, praise Jesus, so why was I after them, more or less, in dreamland?

I do have a habit of getting involved with women who aren’t my type, usually due to a combination of loneliness and lust, which is somewhere in the vicinity of matches and gunpowder for sheer destructive force.

On The Beach

Time after time, I have gotten cozy with women whom I do not find attractive, whom sometimes I don’t even like. Maybe this dream is a warning and if it ain't, I'm going to take it as I such.

The next thing I remember I was in some kind of official looking building, like a hospital, trapped in a faulty elevator.

We weren’t moving and the fellow on board was trying to break down the door. I looked out the window onto a flooded street and saw huge a tentacle rise up out of the water and disappear.

Now this image probably came from "The Host," a Korean horror picture I watched but haven’t sent back to Netflix yet.

It was a decent enough movie, but I didn’t think it packed the emotional weight to show up in my dreams. The tentacle might also be a phallic symbol, but I really don’t want to think about that.

The next day at work I was looking through office email when I got a message from the "Sperm Manager." I looked again and saw it was actually the "Spam Manager." Now that's a Freudian slip to beat the band.

It's fascinating how this dream breaks down in recognizable parts. You just put them all in the Mix Master of my brain, hit "Liquefy" and step back.

What comes out was this rather disturbing tale, not where I wake up screaming, but kind of open my eyes and go "bleech..."

I got out of the elevator through a second door—it was a dream, after all—and approached a security guard to tell him about the creature that was lurking in the streets. But he cut me off.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “about your father…”

What about my father? He hadn’t appeared in the dream at all, at least not physically. But Coney Island and my father’s stay at the nursing home are forever joined in my subconscious.

I can live with that, but I don’t ever want to see Boardwalk Sally again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Flying Over Trouble Street

I got a wrong number last night at my local grocery store: $6.66.

I'm not a superstitious man--knock wood--but I wish I hadn't come up with the devil's number on my bill.

It was probably the Diet Coke that pushed me into perdition; the offending bottle cost 99 cents with 6 cents deposit. Like anything else in this life, if I had tried to do this, it would never have happened in a million years.

"That's a bad number," I said half-jokingly to the cashier, who kind of shrugged and proceeded to bag my things.

Jesus--and I mean that--my aunt is always after me to quit this stuff and now in addition to the chemicals, I have to worry about murderous crows, snarling devil dogs, and all those other satanic freaks from The Omen movies.

Of course if I had gotten a larger bottle of Diet Coke I would have been in the clear, too, but don't tell my aunt that.

I was out of town for the long holiday weekend, up at her place in the Berkshires for my own private exorcism.

It took a lot of hemming and hawing before I made the decision to go, of course, but New York seemed really empty and I wasn't going to spend the whole weekend in front of the DVD player if I could help it.

I headed over to the Port Authority bus terminal early Saturday morning. I was under some delusion everyone had left town the night before, but once inside I felt like I was starring in a road show production of Dante's Inferno.

There were bodies everywhere you looked. I nearly keeled over when I saw one line stretched around the lower level of the terminal and thought it was for my bus. It turned out to be the coach to Boston and I think those people are still waiting to get on that bus.

I felt like an out-of-towner all of a sudden, not sure where I was supposed to be. One guy appeared from nowhere and offered to walk me to my gate.

"Let's go," he said with a creepy smile.

"I got it," I said firmly. "Really, I got it."

I saw this young black kid hanging out by the escalator who suddenly jumped when this voice boomed out from the lower level.

"Do me a favor," the man from below thundered, "get out of here before I lock your ass up!"

I looked down the escalator and saw this very heavy black man in a sleeveless t-shirt pulling a suitcase and yanking out a badge he had around his neck.

"Go on about your business," he told the kid, who promptly vanished.

I caught a ride on the Screaming Baby Bus Line and got the hell of town. It's really the Peter Pan Bus Company, but you're pretty much guaranteed a screaming baby on each ride, so they might as well be up front about it.

I rode next to two ladies from Springfield, Mass., a hardscrabble factory town that's been going through tough times for a while now. They were on their way back from a night at Atlantic City and one of them was on her way to Foxwoods that evening.

They were heavy, poorly educated, but they seemed like decent people. I initially thought of them as white trash and I ashamed of myself now. There's no reason to judge people so harshly just because they don't listen to NPR and rent foreign movies from Netflix.

I had to change at Hartford and then again at Springfield, where I said goodbye to my two friends, and then it was off to Northampton. I swear, as much as I hate riding the bus, I do love that feeling when we pull into that town.

Back Again

My aunt arrived just then and we took off up the mountain to her place in Cummington. The weather was beautiful and the place is so quiet, you'd think you were on another planet. Which I guess you are, in a way.

As soon as we got to her house, I went up to my old bedroom, stopping to put my head in what used to be my parents' room when they stayed there. I did a slight bow in their honor and then I heard my aunt screaming.

I knew it had to be a mouse, so I ran downstairs and found one of the little buggers had apparently dropped from the ceiling. My aunt is deathly afraid of mice, to a point where she can't even toss out the dead bodies.

This guy was half-dead already, so I scooped him with a broom and hurled him out into the nearby field.

Every time I go away I cram too much into my schedule. I was determined not to do it on this painfully short weekend. It was going to be quick hops with plenty of rest in between.

I went with my aunt to a nearby farm to get goat's milk and I got a tour of the place and it's various animals.

It was like Noah's Ark, with chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, and a three-legged dog. While I'm in no immediate danger of becoming a vegetarian, I must say it was strange watching chickens strutting around the yard and thinking about all the chicken I've eaten in mt life.

Oh, I thought, that's what they look like before they get to the butcher shop.

On Sunday we went to Shelbourne Falls to take in the Bridge of Flowers. I've been there a million times, but I never get tired of that place.

In case you haven't been there, the Bridge of Flowers is just that--a bridge with all sorts of beautiful plants, a garden spanning the Deerfield River.

A young couple asked me to take their picture in front of the bridge and I gladly obliged. Then the woman asked me to take another one with the flash.

"This could be a second career for me," I said.

I didn't notice until we were done that the couple was pushing around a kid in a baby carriage. Apparently they didn't one him in the shot. Sorry, kid, I just pressed the button.

We walked down the main drag and we saw Ronnie, a local guy who lives in a shelter in town. I remembered him from last year, when he took a liking to my aunt and I got a little nervous, not understanding what he wanted.

As I walked by him, I heard him speaking to a couple who was eating at an outdoor cafe.

"I hate to ask you for money..." he was saying.

But he's going to ask you anyway. I see Ronnie cuts to the chase faster than he did a year ago.

On the way home, we stopped at a farm to get some peaches, and while my aunt did the shopping, I played with this beautiful husky, who made me pet her over and over.

I thought of how mean I had been to our family dog Casey when I was younger and I wondered if I was the sort of guy who is nice to strangers, but who treats his loved ones like garbage. It's not a nice thought, but it does cross your mind.

With all my talk about being a parent, do I have the patience needed to raise a child or am I better as an uncle who just plays with the kid, but doesn't take any real responsibility?

We headed home and scrapped any plans to go out that evening. I was too tired and too satisfied, really. Why run into town just to catch a movie when I can relax in the mountains?

I was sitting outside late in the afternoon and I happened to look up into the clear blue sky and saw three massive hawks sailing through the air.

They were fabulous, just swooping through the blue. I think of my fear of flying and how this guys live for flight. I could have watched them all day and enjoyed it more than any damn movie.

I tried to imagine what the world looks like from their perspective, how small and slow everything seems.

I hadn't been away for almost a year and I see it's good to take trips, even the short ones, because you can step out of yourself and watch your life fron a distance.

Dog's Life

I have to be honest: I didn't like what I saw. I am an angry little guy, no two ways about it. I am in a nearly constant state of pissed-offedness as I relive the past, bitch about the present and agonize about my future.

On my last night before going home, my aunt and I took our customary walk under the stars to the nearby crossroads. My aunt often tells me stories about my mother when they were growing up and it gives me another piece of my mom's life.

We walked up to the Bryant Homestead where our ears were assailed by some loud music. Now I've grown used to this in the city, but here, in this place I consider holy ground, I was livid.

"It's coming from Trouble Street," my aunt said.

Aptly named, that street. My aunt said it only seems to happen on holiday weekends, so she hasn't complained. She doesn't want any...trouble.

We walked home under those brilliant stars, but the effect was ruined somewhat. Once you have those stars, you don't need anything else.

The next day I carried my aunt's sewing machine upstairs where she could work by the window. She offered to help me, then stood back somewhat amazed when I picked up the table on my own.

"It must be great to do that without help," she said.

I realized she was talking about getting older and to be thankful for the time we have while we're still independent. It's like summer: it's great while it lasts, but it just doesn't last long enough.

I regret I couldn't finish assembling the thing for her, but it was time to go. I felt useless, but we just didn't plan things well this weekend.

I caught another Peter Pan (Screaming Baby) Bus down to Springfield, where I crammed into an overstuffed coach heading for New York. And, yes, we did have a screaming baby on board, but she was also cute.

The young black man seated next to me was on his cell phone and was apparently traveling down to Atlanta by bus. It made my trip seem like a walk to the corner.

"I'll see you in Marietta," he said into the phone.

The bus driver played a movie (?) on the way down, a Disney thing called Eight Below, about a dog sled driver who struggles to get back his dog team, which has been abandoned in a fierce antarctic storm.

It was the worst of both worlds for me: a crappy movie, but with enough sentimental scenes to make me weepy, as two of the dogs die in the stuggle to survive. I thought of my husky friend and old Casey.

So now I'm home, the summer is over, and it's going to feel like Antarctica around here pretty soon.

And, yes, I got stuck with the devil's number, but that won't stop me from flying high over all that trouble.