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.

2 comments:

Calamity Jen said...

1. What book were you reading that was so absorbing?

2. You're not a freak.

3. Aramaic, while ancient and fascinating and all that, is slightly less useful on a day-to-day basis than, say, Spanish or perhaps Mandarin or Tagalog.

4. I've only ever known Jerry Orbach as Det. Lenny Briscoe from Law & Order. I must Google some of his earlier work.

5. Rats are more intelligent than most of the drivers out there.

Rob K said...

1. A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone

2. Thank you.

3. Good to know.

4. Google away.

5. And they're probably better drivers.