Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sale of the Century

We sold off a bit our family history the other week, but there was plenty left over at the end of the day.

My sister and I held a part of a garage sale outside our house in an attempt to clear out the closets and raise some money for some home improvement.

I’ve walked by scores of these things in my life: someone takes all their stuff from the attic or basement and hopes for the best.

But this is the first time I ever sat on the other side of the table. And I hope it’s the last.

I mean, it wasn’t so terrible; we actually met some very nice people. But we gave up a Saturday and wound up with a grand total of $53.

Still, as my late father used to say, that’s $53 dollars we didn’t have before.

We sat there, surrounded by old clothes, knick-knacks, and other such stuff that we’ve found in the course of our clean-up.

Earlier in the week we had gone around the neighborhood putting up fliers announcing the sale and I posted a notice on Craigslist, complete with an image of a treasure chest bursting with booty—the pirate kind, not the other kind of booty.

I called the event the “Last Chance” garage sale, reminding people that winter was coming and that they better hustle if they want to get in on the bargains.

It’s strange putting your family’s property up for sale. You watch people rifle the clothes rack and you want to tell them, “hey, that belonged to my mother; show a little respect, huh?”

But I recall the times I’ve gone to these sales and handled the items so casually because they meant nothing to me.

Are we being too money-hungry? Would our parents be angry if they knew we were doing this? Hell, it’s not the vital stuff; it’s just things that we’ll either throw out or give away when we sell the place. I’d like to think they’d applaud our initiative.

My sister showed a natural skill for selling. As soon as a potential customer got
close, she’d approach them and ask “are you looking for anything in particular

I took a more laisse-fare approach, not wanting to scare off the customers—or be forced to haggle.

I confess I was dreading this day, convinced I’d be buffaloed into giving away the store by some smooth-talking flea market veteran. But, while I did give up one item a little too quickly, I made it through the day without being ripped off.

One of our first customers was a Hispanic man who was looking for some clothes. My sister asked he wanted some toys for his family, but he told us they were back in Mexico.

He bought a pair of gym pants and a jacket with “Brooklyn” emblazoned on the front that had belonged to the lowlife former tenants of ours.

I’m sure this man was working here illegally, so I felt good that he had some decent clothes for the winter. I don’t envy him being so far from loved ones.

Later it occurred to me that I had found a sweatshirt with a hood upstairs and washed it with the intent of keeping it for myself. It was only later that I discovered the zipper was broken.

I wish now I had given that sweatshirt to the Mexican guy--on the house. He could have gotten the zipper fixed and the sweatshirt would have paired well with the jacket.

Another lady bought a stuffed bear on a leash that belonged to my sister. She told us that she was going to give it to her sister, who, as a child, had dangled a similar stuffed bear out the window of her father’s car.

You know what happened next, don’t you? The chain broke and the bear tumbled onto the highway, never to be seen again.

One woman bought my Grand Canyon guide book. I had gone there in 1998 and I didn’t need the book anymore—the memory of that trip is permanently etched in my brain.

Still, it’s strange, watching someone walk away with your property. Only it’s not your property anymore, it’s someone else’s. And that’s what it’ll be like when we sell the house.

My Back Pages

A man with some kind of Eastern European accent was interested in records. We have a lot of old albums, but I didn’t want to put them out because I want an expert to take a look at them first. I’d be pretty angry if I handed over a classic LP for a buck fifty.

There was a story just recently about a woman who found a painting lying in the trash four years ago that could now could fetch up to $1 million at auction.

But I went into my room and took some records out of my closet. As I went out into the daylight I saw a recording of the Sherlock Holmes’ story The Adventures of the Speckled Band read by Basil Rathbone.

My mother had bought this and other such records for us when we were kids. My brother and I used to listen to The Adventures of Sinbad, Treasure Island, The Castaways, and stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

This was long before DVD players and I-pods and we enjoyed the hell out of them.

Like the old time radio dramas, these records made you use your imagination to create the pictures that were being described to you. And since we were all big fans of the Sherlock Holmes movies, we loved the records.

And now some stranger was putting his grubby little hands all over that childhood gift from my mother.

I sat there stewing, praying he wouldn’t chose that record, all of the others in the pile, because if he did, I’d have to sell it to him and I’d watch him walk down the street with that piece of my mother’s memory tucked under his arm, and I’d either have a nervous breakdown or chase him the block with ball peen hammer.

It was time for action, not hand wringing.

“Excuse me,” I said, pointing to the Rathbone record. “There’s been a mistake. That one’s not for sale.”

The guy handed it over without any complaint and he wound up buying some album of songs we had gotten as a freebie. That was a close one, Watson.

Then there was this very lovely woman who bought many of my mom’s art supplies.

My mom was into ceramics and other artsy-craftsy stuff and this woman, who was a teacher, bought some brushes and other items for her class. It was nice to see my mom’s stuff going on to a new generation.

And then this woman—I’ve since forgotten her name—happened to open one of the craft books, flip through the pages, and out fell a color photo that must have been at least 35 years old.

It’s a picture of me—God, what happened to all that hair?—my then-best friend and his older sister. We’re all kneeling in front of their Christmas tree, my friend with his arm linked through his sister’s while I’m holding her right hand.

I’m wearing a scarf with the Midas logo—the Midas muffler, get it?—a gift from my friend’s other sister, who ran a Midas shop with her husband.

The picture takes me back to a place where I don’t want to be. I was the second-banana then, the best friend, the one who made the jokes, but was never respected, never taken seriously.

And what’s worse is that my friend’s sister died a short time later—from pneumonia, I believe.

She was a very small, sweet woman, and Christ, I don’t think she made it to 40 years old. I guess my friend and I weren’t holding on to her tightly enough.

She and her husband had lived in Danbury, Conn., and my friend and I had visited them one summer for a few days. The next time I went back there it would in the winter for her funeral.

I remember the wake, when my friend’s mother reached into her daughter’s coffin and started speaking to her, as if she could hear, as if she would come back to life and get out the casket.

Apparently my mother had held on to this photo and then forgot about it. While I’m glad we didn’t give it away, I kind of wish I hadn’t seen it. It's now in the pages of another book.

My sister had to leave late in the day and a short time later a couple parked their car in front of our house and started looking at our goods.

“Are you looking for anything in particular today?” I asked, getting into the salesman routine.

The woman picked a blouse that had belonged to my mother, but the price tag was still on it, so she never wore it.

We might have bought it for her when she was sick, hoping she would one day be well enough to wear it. Only that day never came.

I was supposed to start the bidding at 5 bucks, but I blurted out three for some reason.

“Would you take two?” the woman asked.

It was late, I was tired, and I had screwed up. I suspected this couple relied on the lateness of the day to get a break in the prices.

After six hours of sitting outside, you just want to get this stuff out of your life. So I went for two bucks.

We closed up a little while later and we won’t do this again until the spring.

One of our neighbors asked me later that evening, “are you ready for E-bay yet, darling?”

Yeah, I think I am.

I was going to my gym in Park Slope yesterday and I saw people holding a garage sale outside their house.

The stuff looked like junk mostly, but then my family’s items must have looked the same way to other people. I hope this people flipped through the books they wanted to sell to make sure they wouldn’t lose any valuable photos.

I checked out the DVD’s, but I didn’t see anything I liked, so I kept walking.

“Hello!” a voice called out. I turned and saw a woman walking toward me.

“Are you looking for anything special?” she asked.

“No, thank you,” I said, and kept walking.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Stake Out

Friday night, 7 p.m. I was doing a stake out at a Thai restaurant on 28th Street and Third Avenue.

With all that rain washing over the asphalt, I was glad to be inside.

From where I was sitting, I had a perfect view of the apartment building across the street.

Now all I could do was sit, eat, and wait for the subject to show up.

This wasn't the original plan for my evening. I was thinking of going to Barnes & Noble at Union Square and catch a reading by Paul Krugman.

I read that guy's column all the time and I figured it would be fun to hang out with like-minded people.

But my aunt was coming back to New York after spending the summer in the Berkshires and her bus was due in at 3:45 p.m.

I expected her to call me at my office when she arrived at her apartment and then I'd suggest that we have dinner together.

Only I never got the call.

So I headed up to her apartment and asked the doorman to announce me. No soap. She wasn't in.

It was past 6 p.m. Her bus should have come in hours ago and it doesn't take that long to get down to her place from the Port Authority.

I knew I wouldn't enjoy the Krugman reading if I was worrying about my aunt and I suspected that, given his popularity, the place would be packed to the gills.

I had gone to see Al Franken at the same store a few years ago and the place was so crowded I wound up watching him on a closet circuit TV set up one flight below. So much for your live readings.

As I thought about my aunt, I started having a slow motion panic attack. I told myself that everything would turn out all right, but I realized I just wanted everything to be all right. I had no idea where my aunt was.

I've done this before, many times, actually. If I can't get ahold of someone close to me, my mind instantly cranks out a 3-D surround sound disaster movie starring my missing loved one.

I inherited this trait from my mother and I don't think I'll ever shake it.

I prepared myself for a long night. I grabbed my table at the Thai place and picked a few things on the menu.

As I watched the city's masses go by my window--homeless guy pushing a wagon-load of soda cans, old lady in running shoes clutching an umbrella and a Duane Reade bag--I told myself there had to be a reasonable explanation for my aunt's vanishing act.

I just had no idea what it could be.

I can't take any more misery, I heard myself think, I can't take any more funerals or hospital visits, not so soon after the old man's death.

Forget Me Not

My psyche has been getting a bit of a workout over the last 12 hours. On the way home Thursday night I stopped at my local grocery store and picked up a bottle of Diet Pepsi and a container of Quaker Oatmeal.

It was late and I was tired. As I crossed Fourth Avenue, some douche bag on a bicycle came whistling down the street doing a karaoke number with his I-pod.

He got a little too close for my liking, we exchanged dirty looks, and he rode off, hopefully to have an abrupt rendezvous with a sanitation truck. I did my usual B-movie tough guy fantasy of bitch-slapping the latest person in this town to piss me off.

I got home, got ready to read my e-mails and turn in when I found my groceries were missing. I sometimes put stuff down and completely forget where they are, but this was different. The shopping bag was not in the house.

I thought I might have left my stuff at the store, but, hell, that was impossible. I couldn't have done that, just walked out of the place and left my oatmeal and soda on the counter.

I was cursing and complaining to the fates and the four walls until I finally relented: I'd have to go back to the store and risk looking like an idiot.

It was nearly midnight and I still had more day of work, but I got my coat on and trudged back to the story. The alley cats rule the streets at this time of night.

Instead of hiding or sneaking from one trash can to another, the feral felines walk boldly down the sidewalk as if they're heading to the office...which I guess they are, in their own way.

I walked back into the store and asked about my goods. It turns out I had left them there and the owner, who was preparing to close, put them back on the shelf.

It was almost a happy ending, except I was bothered at being in this situation in the first place. How the hell did I forget my stuff at the counter? Was my brain that occupied or is this first step down the slide to dementia?

When I got home I saw the owner had given me regular Pepsi, not the diet crap I crave so desperately. I'll exchange it tomorrow. At least I have my oatmeal.

So There I Was...

I polished off my vegetable rolls and saw a woman in a red overcoat crossing Third Avenue. Was that her?

I wasn't sure, not from this angle, so I watched as she reached the curb, walked a few hundred feet onto 28th Street and turned into my aunt's building.

Okay, I thought, if that's her, she'll get my message and call me on my cell.

I waited, imagining my aunt riding up in the elevator, going into her apartment and checking her messages. The time was passing, as were people on the street.

The old lady with the running shoes and the umbrella came back--from another direction--only she didn't have the Duane Reade bag anymore.

Too much time had gone by. My aunt should be in her place by now, she should have gotten my message...message, my ass, she should have called me the minute she put the lights on. She must know I'm worried about her.

I called my home number. My cell phone decided to get stupid on me and broke the connection, so I dialed again. There was one message, coming in at 6:29 p.m.

I quickly tapped out the code, but there was nothing but a loud click, and the robot voice asking me if I wanted to hear the message again. Hear what again, dumb-ass? They--whoever they were--didn't leave a message.

What to make of this--my aunt was calling me from a phone booth but was grabbed from behind, an ether-soaked handkerchief held over her mouth, and dumped into a steamer trunk? Maybe my next call would be a ransom demand.

I finsihed my plate of rice noodles and chicken. It was time to get out of this place, so I signaled for the check.

There were three young women sitting next to me and in between eating my meal, watching my aunt's building and checking out the rain-slick faces on the avenue, I caught bits and pieces of their conversation.

They were talking about dating and one of them said she was glad her parents lived upstate so she had a little of space between them and her private life.

She was apparently dating a foreign guy, who hadn't had many girlfriends, and she said he had a lot of "ethnic traits," except I thought she said "epic traits." I was making a note of that until I realized my mistake.

Then I heard this little gem:

"If you decide you're a lesbian..."

I don't know how that sentence concluded and I'm not sure I want to know. If you decide you're a lesbian, more power to you. I admire decisiveness.

Cup of Joe

I moved my stake-out over to the Starbucks across the street. I ordered a piece of bananna nut loaf cake and some kind of ice tea-lemonade drink.

The fellow behind the counter was very helpful--too helpful, really--and asked me a series questions about flavors and sweetening as he prepared my order.

I couldn't make out what he was saying, so I just kept saying yes to each of his queries and then I started wondering what the hell this stuff was going to taste like when--and if--I finally got it.

I grabbed my drink before he could ask any more questions and looked for a seat. The tables were all taken, so I thought I might resume my spy routine at one of the window seats.

They were pretty filled, except one at the end of the row. Unfortunately some Euro-trash blowhard was in the next seat, hog-calling into a cell phone in some unrecognizable tongue.

I took one of the interior seats, which offered absolutely no view at all, and called my aunt. No answer.

It was 7:30 p.m. I decided I'd call my sister at 8 p.m. No need to freak out the whole family just yet.

I polished off the tea-lemonade, which was rather tasty, and called my aunt one more time. And she picked up the phone.

Of course I wanted to scream at her, but I was too busy being relieved. The bus ride took forever, she said, and she couldn't get through to my home number's answering service for some reason.

And my cell phone number? She didn't think to call. All right, fine. I went up to her place and we chatted for a while. It was good to see her alive and well and not on a the back of a milk carton.

We skipped the dinner plans as was already taken care of from soup to nuts. I walked her down to the corner and then she headed off to a local Chinese place and went downtown to get my train.

As I walked down to 14th Street in the mist, I recalled this childhood memory that's been replaying in my head for the better part of a week.

I had just gotten out of my kindergarten class at P.S. 102 and my parents came to pick me up.

I was sitting in the back seat of my dad's car and I had just shown my parents a paper where I had written my name: "R-o-b-e-r-t."

"That's very good," my mother said, obviously proud. "Now you just have to learn how to spell 'Lenihan'."

I remember being a little confused. I was Robert; I didn't need another name. This one was plenty.

I was wondering why this memory has been coming back to me so much lately and tonight I think I figured out why.

I felt so safe in that car with my parents. Both my mom and dad were young and healthy and I was the star, sitting in the back seat of my dad's big old Chevy Biscayne.

I wasn't worried about missing relatives, selling the house, making my way in this world or finding the woman of my dreams. I wasn't worried at all.

I reached Union Square and saw barriers and portable fencing around the Barnes & Noble. Clearly there had been a need for crowd control for Krugman's appearance.

I noticed a woman holding a door open for two others and I could tell from behind that she was a panhandler who hangs around my office on Wall Street.

I give her a buck every time I see her and she always responds by saying "God bless ya."

We made eye contact and exchanged hellos. It was strange seeing her so far uptown.

"I took care of you this afternoon," I said, cheap bastard that I am. "I thought you hung around Wall Street."

"There was no one down there," she said.

"You live around here?"

"No, I live in Staten Island."

It occurred to me that I've been giving this woman dollar bills for over a year now and I know virtually nothing about her, not even her name.

One time last summer I had joked with her that I was an easy mark because you could see my bald head from a block away. She responded by pulling me in close and kissing the top of my coconut.

"Leave your bald head alone!" she declared.

I spent the next half-hour in my office men's room with my head under a powerful jet of hot water. It's only a dollar, dear, please try to control yourself.

Tonight, I didn't like the idea of leaving her out in the rain, so I took out my wallet and handed over another buck.

"Why are you doing this, Papi?" she asked. "You gave me money before."

"It's been a good night," I said and walked to the train station.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Blogade Ridge

I just want to thank the compact but hearty group that turned out for today's blogade on my home turf (toif?) of Bay Ridge.

This was the first time I ever hosted such an event and I'm proud to say I didn't lose a single blogger.

I was so nervous in the days leading up to this event that I didn't realize that I was having a great time until late in the day.

We met at Omonia Cafe on Third Avenue and the upstairs all to ourselves, where we talked, ate, and kibbutezed.

Of course, I realize now that I didn't say all the things I wanted to say about the history of Bay Ridge, but I hope you guys got the general idea.

The guest list included:

Bed-Stuy Blog
Brooklyn Junction
Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn
Flatbush Gardener
I'm Seeing Green
Self-Absorbed Boomer

Also joining us was David Scheffler of Swell Designs.

Thanks one and all for coming out!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Central Booking

I figure if I'm going to live in the five-borough insane asylum that is New York City, I should get out there and enjoy all the cultural stuff that this town has to offer.

I've done the Mayberry routine for a decade, living in small towns and wondering why.

I met some great people, but it wasn't for me, at least not at this stage of my life.

Everybody grew up together and everybody is pretty much married to everybody else--several times over. A single guy from out of town doesn't have too much to do on the weekends in these places.

All right, so here I am, back in the New York groove for 10 years now, and I often find myself crashing in front of the DVD player instead of going out on the town.

The other night I ordered myself to go to the Barnes & Noble at Union Square and see Richard Russo, who was reading from his latest novel, Bridge of Sighs .

It was cultural, something that I couldn't do in the sticks and it was happening early enough that I could go out on the town and raise all kinds of hell until the sun came up.

This was highly unlikely, of course, but I like to keep my options open.

The place was packed and the bookstore staff had set up camera to tape the event for the company's Web site.

I found a seat far enough back so I wouldn't have to make eye contact with the author and at the end of the row so I could take my aging kidneys for a men's room run in case the need arose.

I'm sitting there waiting for this thing to star and I hear these voices behind me.

I never got a really good look at these people, but it sounded like an elderly woman and her middle-aged son kvetching--kvetching to beat the band, kvetching like there's no tomorrow, kvetching like it's going out of style, are we clear on the kvetching situation?

Every word between these two was cause for some kind of argument and I have to hear every syllable of this crap.

It's just like when I go to the movies and the biggest loudmouth butthole on the Eastern Seaboard has to, simply must sit directly behind me.

What is it--the bald head that draws them in?

Are they going to do this all night? I harumpfed.

I harumpf to myself a lot. I'm in a state of near constant harumpf-a-tude, just about anything and everything can get me harumphing. I should join Harumphers Anonymous, if it exists, and if it doesn't, I should start the first chapter and make myself president.

The problem is that I rarely (read "never") speak up when people behave like this. I fear creating a scene, getting punched in the nose or being beaten over the head with whiffle ball bats.

So instead I fume, I rage, and I harumph.

I was fantasying about turning around very slowly and giving these people an industrial strength stink-eye when Richard Russo walked into the room and stepped on to the stage.

He stood before us, a giant illustration from Gulliver's Travels on one side of the wall behind him and a scene from Moby Dick on the other.

As the applause subsided, I wandered what it would be like if I were up there on stage, if I had actually finished this novel that I've been half-heartedly been working on since birth--or so it feels.

Wouldn't it great to fill a room with people who want to hear your words, to share a stage, more or less, with Jonathan Swift and Herman Melville? Somewhere between Lilliput and the white whale, there's got to be a place for me.

After a few opening remarks, Richard Russo began his reading and two amazing things happened: the Kvetchers actually shut their respective pieholes.

And I fell sound asleep.

I still can't believe it. I am so interested in cultural experiences, I want to enjoy the benefits of the city that never sleeps, but I can't stay awake.

I was like some old man in the park, snoring away while pigeons perch all over him.

I'm so glad I didn't sit up front. I could just imagine Russo looking down from the podium and seeing me nodding off.

I don't think he'd settle for just harumpfing. He probably hurl the book at my glistening pate.

"Wake up, you bald-headed son-of-a-bitch! You think I spent years of my life working on this thing just so you catch up on your sleep? This ain't no bedtime story, numb nuts!"

The Harrods Experiment

I did manage to wake up for the Q&A and I told myself that this was the most important part of the evening. I can always read the book on my own. Listening to the author talk about the writing process is far more important.

I'd like to think that no one noticed my Rip Van Winkle act, though that hardly seems likely. I hope the camera crew didn't get any footage of my drooping head.

When the program ended, I got up quickly with my eyes cast down. I didn't look at the Kvetchers or anyone else.

I kept my head low, half-expecting an autographed copy of Bridge of Sighs to come streaking across the room and bounce off my skull, but I made it to the escalator unscathed.

I had a dream about another huge retailer, only this was Harrods in London. This dream intrigues me because not only have I never been to Harrods, I haven't even thought about the place.

There was no sign of Herrods in my life and yet I'm dreaming about the place. The only think of is that an e-mail exchange with a British friend recently. But Harrods never came up.

In this dream, I apparently screw up an order for a picnic lunch and I had to go there to get it all squared away.

My sister showed up and started berating me for being out to lunch and when I mentioned this to her the next day, she shrugged and said, "oh, just like real life?"

A very dapper, upper crusty type man with a nice suit and a large mustache appeared and told me to follow him. We left the ritzy store and began walking down this dark spiral staircase, and it felt more like a dungeon than a department store.

I sat down in the waiting room with a bunch of other people and at some point I gave my sister some money--six bucks comes to mind--and told her to give it to the powers that be.

She left and returned a short time later smiling broadly. She assured me that everything was okay and when I asked for my six bucks back, she had no idea what I was talking about.


I woke up back in Brooklyn and vowed that if I ever did go to Harrods, I'd never shop there again.

After the Barnes & Noble incident I decided to spend Saturday night in Brooklyn. I went to a local bar where a former local guy was playing in a band. There was little chance I'd fall asleep during this gig.

I met up with some people I knew and we all enjoyed the music. As usual, when I'm in a bar, I start looking around for some female companionship and I make eye contact with a woman at the end of the bar.

She smiles at me and I smile back. Hmmm...so many times in the past I've gotten encouraging looks from a woman and I turn away; I fail to act out of fear of rejection or a feeling of unworthiness.

I'm getting too old for this kind of school boy psychosis and, frankly, I'm tired of being alone.

She just a few feet away, I harumpfed. Go over and talk to her.

And that's what I do. I walk right up to her and I'm so proud of myself begin so aggressive and getting what I want.

Not too long ago, I would have let that woman get away from me and then cursed myself for the rest of the night for being a wuss. Now I was taking charge of my life.

Well, early on in my conversation with this woman, I find out three important facts about her: she's married, drunk and insane.

The first two don't last forever, but that last one, that's a little tricky. I found out she lived on 73rd Street, the scene of a terrible fire earlier this year, and when I mention this, she starts ranting.

I had trouble understand her, given her intoxication and madness, but it seemed that every other word was "fuck" and she and her husband--who was close by--couldn't get to their car on the morning of the fire.

She sat there, squinting, twitching, and cursing like Long John Silver in drag. All she needed was a parrot and a peg leg, and while I saw no sign of parrot poop, I confess I didn't look down at her gams. By that time I had seen quite enough.

I was actually able to laugh at this situation. Here was proof positive that there are no guarantees in life. Just because you decide to change doesn't mean you're going to be instantly rewarded.

It just means you made a decision about yourself and opened a new door, which can be reward enough sometimes.

I had a sudden urge to hit the head--oh, thank you, aging kidneys--and I beat a hasty retreat to the gents. I hid there for a few minutes and then slunk (slinked?) back to my companions.

I peeked over at the Pirate Queen and her husband--Captain Crud?--and saw they were drinking and arguing with each other. Gee, I'd feel terrible if I broke up such a happy couple.

It was time to go, oh, God, was it ever. All right, so I haven't met the woman of my dreams. I didn't connect with a famous author, and I never get my six bucks back.

But I expanded my world a little. And I think I'll stop all that harumpfing; it's not good for me.

From now on, if anything bugs me, I'll just say, arrrrrr!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shoot The Freak!

Ego alert!

My article and video about Coney Island are finally ready for your reading and viewing pleasure at TheStreet.com.

I sent the link to the story to just about everyone I know, but in case you somehow escaped my desperate need for praise, you can find the story here.

In the looking at the video, I think I speak just a little too quickly and I don't make enough eye contact with the camera.

You're supposed to treat that lens as another person, so I'm sorry if it looks like I'm giving you the cold shoulder, but I'm new at this stuff.

The lede on the print version of the story got trimmed in a way that I did not like, but that is the nature of journalism, I suppose. I'm trying to put that behind me, though, and focus on the good stuff.

Linda, the tour guide who showed me around Coney Island, wrote such a lovely e-mail to me that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

At the time this video was shot, Linda's mother was literally at death's door and, in fact, died just a few days later. It was a crazy, terrible time for her and it struck a familiar note with me, having lost my father in January.

I'm glad she was able to meet up with me for the video, but by that time there was little she could do for her mom. At times like these, keeping busy is the only way of keeping sane.

So it was nice to get this message from Linda this morning: (Son of Ego Alert!)

"This has been a wonderful experience for me. I do want to say the most wonderful part of it was meeting you, Rob. Your warmth and empathy touched me deeply at a time when I needed warmth and empathy. You are a lovely person."

I make no claims to being a lovely person, but if I said or did something that helped Linda during that critical stage of her life, then I am very happy indeed.

Now click on to my video and shower me with praise! I'm hurting, people!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Calling All Brooklyn Bloggers!

All right, all you Kings County bloggers, it's time to come out from behind the keyboard and face the world. Or at least one part of it.

On Sunday, Oct. 21, I will be hosting Blogade, a monthly meeting of Brooklyn bloggers in beautiful downtown Bay Ridge. (I don't if it's really downtown, but I like how that sounds.)

This is my first time hosting one of these events, so naturally I'm a nervous wreck. The bloggers group has its own web page, but we want to reach out to all bloggers in Brooklyn.

The Who: You. That is, you, if you blog in Brooklyn.

The Where: Omonia Cafe, 7612 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. For about 8 bucks you get a delicious pastry and a damn good cup of coffee.

The When: 1 p.m. to about 4 p.m.

The Why: Meet, greet, mingle, schmooze, kibbutz, and sound off about your blog or anything else that might be bugging you.

This is a great group of people and it is diverse as hell. I've traveled to parts of my borough that I never would have dreamed of going--and I'm so glad I did.

But we need more: We need you.

So shoot me an e-mail and tell me about you and your blog. Tell me what part of Brooklyn you're from and please include your blog's URL.

Please note: if there are any changes to the above plan, I will post a notice and contact everybody by e-mail.

What can I say, people? That's just the kind of guy I am.

I wish you all peace, love, kindness, and plenty of cream cheese.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Do I Know You?

"Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands."

---Walt Whitman

I could have sworn I saw an old girlfriend of mine on the subway the other day.

She got on the train at Dekalb Avenue and sat directly across from me in the two-person seat.

Those are my favorite seats on the subway, especially the one against the conductor's booth.

I can rest or sleep and dream I'm on a beautiful beach instead of riding the damn subway.

But I wasn't dreaming on this particular morning; this was real. I'm just not sure who it was.

I'll call her Kate, though that wasn't her name. I went out with her nearly 30 years ago and I haven't seen her for at least 25 years and probably more.

I studied this woman's face--as much as I could without being called a stalker. It looked like Kate, though a few pounds lighter. The hairdo, her profile; if it wasn't her, it could have been a close relative.

I was already losing my hair when I first knew Kate and I shaved my head about six years ago, so I don't think the Telly Savalas look has altered my appearance that much.

So what do you do at a time like this? Lean over and say, "do I know?" Did we have a relationship so many years ago that I'm not sure who you are?

What if you're wrong? You have to do the old Emily Litella "never mind" routine, sit back down, and wait as the minutes grind slowly by until the train pulls into your station. That's assuming you don't get Maced.

And I wasn't sure if I wanted to see Kate again. We didn't end on the best of terms and it was my fault.

Why bother reminding someone of a relationship that ended years ago--before the Internet existed? What could we say to each other after all this time?

We worked together at a vanity press way, way over on the West Side of Manhattan, back when it was all factories and nobody wanted to live there. Like a lot of things in New York, that's changed dramatically.

This was my first job out of college. I had dreams of being a writer and I thought this would be my way into the world of publishing, where I could make my connections, unleash my great novel on an unsuspecting world, rake in millions of dollars and quit riding the subways.

The great novel--or even a mediocre novel has yet to happen and I'm still riding the subways.

It's A Living

Kate was a copy editor at this hellhole and during my first week there, I came found her waiting for me in my office.

She was about to ask me a question about a manuscript when she stopped and looked at me.

"Did you go to Brooklyn Tech?"

"Yes, why do--?"

Then I realized I was talking to my English teacher from sophomore year. She was hands-down my favorite teacher during those four lousy years and now here she was at my first job.

This is the time when someone usually says "small world" but it's not going to be me.

I had a terrible crush on Kate when she was my teacher. I fantasized about dating her. And these weren't the smutty sort of fantasies, I'll have you know. These were tasteful, romantic delusions.

At the end of the school year I gave her a card and a present--it was some kind of woman's cream, which she dabbed on her wrist so she could smell it.

I was hoping I'd have her again in my junior year, but she left the school and a classmate told me she had moved to Massachusetts. I was bummed, but I figured these things happen.

Now, this is how crazy I am. Some point in junior year, I read about a plane crash in the Boston area, saw one of the victims had the same last name and first initial as Kate and somehow took it into my head that it was her.

I mean, I know I was a teen-ager, but it's still nuts. I immediately hit the panic button, dial in the worst case scenario and run up the white flag. She had a common surname, but that wasn't enough for me.

Now I'm at my first job and there's Kate standing in front of me, alive and well.

We went to lunch to catch up on old times and started going places--just as friends. I didn't know how to make my move and I was afraid I'd offend her if I did and then I'd have to see her every day at work.

I went out to Staten Island to see a neighborhood theater production of "Barefoot in the Park" with her and then we went back to her place for pizza. And...I made my move.

I was facing and I heard a voice in my head say, "do it, kiss her!" So that's what I did. And she went for it. I couldn't believe it. I was convinced she'd break a chair over my head, but I was wrong--in the right way, for once.

We started going out and it was great. We had similar interests and made each other happy. Even my parents liked her.

One of my friends said that was the ultimate teen-age boy's fantasy, but I was no longer in school and she was no longer my teacher. We were civilians, free to do what we wanted. And we did.

I gave her some my short stories to read and she was very supportive about my writing. She really built up my confidence, for which I remain very grateful to this day.

Whenever I was acting like a smart-ass, which was most of the time, she'd say "I should have failed you."

Now the job really sucked--I had to deal with all sorts of freaks who thought they could write books when they could barely write a grocery list.

I was so miserable, working at this dank factory and being much younger and quite immature, I couldn't handle it well.

I went to Ireland on a vacation, which was a blast, but when I got back, the relationship with Kate started to crumble. We began bickering over stupid things and seeing each other became a chore.

"I feel distant from you," she told me at one point. And she was right.

I was pushing away from her. I thought I had found the woman of my dreams, but I was too young and much too immature for a serious relationship. Emotionally, I was still a teen-ager. Hell, I was still 12 years old in the maturity department.

Kate got a new job, so at least we didn't have to see each other every day at work. We somehow managed to keep our relationship a secret, or at least I think we did.

One of the rules about office affairs states that you should never worry if your co-workers will find out about your relationship. They probably already know.

As I mentioned, I had to deal with a lot of psychos at my job. Well, one day one them came to the office demanding that either we give him his money back or his book.

It took forever to get the books publisher because the owner of the company was so cheap that he always did business with the most inexpensive suppliers. The result was a lot of angry "authors" who directed their venom at me and my supervisor.

This guy was a hulking ex-con who was twice my size. I was trying to reason with the bastard when he punched me in the face.

I staggered back and just stood there in shook. He had a friend with him who took him out of the office and we called the police.

That's What Fiends Are For

The cops who responded told me that it was unlikely that much would happen to the guy--and they were right. One of they even advised me to get some friends with bats and "break the guy's fucking legs."

I think they were right on that score, too.

I spent the next several hours in at an area hospital waiting to get checked out. I wasn't hurt, thank God, but I had to get X-rayed and examined just to be safe.

The prick lived in Jersey and the police told me they don't extradaite people for simple assault cases. I supposed I could have sued, but this bum didn't have two nickles to rub together.

I tried to forget it, but some one my so-called friends at work starting making fun of me, making what were supposedly harmless "jokes" about the incident. I know we were all young, but couldn't they see how much these jokes hurt my feelings?

I find I'm still angry at these "friends" even after all this time--more so than I am at the scumbag who hit me. That guy was a criminal; these schmucks were supposed to be my friends.

I've never been very good at sticking up for myself. I've taken a lot of abuse over the years from people I thought I could trust, people I considered friends.

I was always desperate to be liked and certain people picked up on this trait and took advantage of it.

I eventually got another job and then I broke up with Kate. I took the coward's route, breaking off a series of dates until she asked me what was going on.

I tried to make it sound like it was both of us going in different directions, but she started crying. Clearly I was the only one going anywhere. I had failed her.

We broke up and lost contact with her. I saw Kate one more time, hmmm, I want to say around 1985, as I was walking through the lobby of the World Trade Center.

I was working for a security company back then--another lousy job--and I was feeling ill. It turns out I was suffering with mononucleosis and this would be the start of a long, awful time of my life, where my immune system was severely battered.

But at the time I thought I had a simple virus and as I headed toward the revolving doors, I saw this woman coming toward me. We looked at each other and I realized it was Kate.

We greeted each other and it turned out that she worked in the trade center, too. We talked about what an idiot Ronald Reagan was--and will always be--and I suggested we have lunch sometime as soon as I felt better.

She said yes and she let me give her a peck on the cheek, though I could see she was uncomfortable having me so close to her. We never did have that lunch.

I also saw that scumbag who hit me, years later, in downtown New York. It was very similar to my suprise meeting with Kate.

We recognized each other, but I kept walking. I told myself that it was impossible, that it couldn't have been the same guy, but I know now it was. And I let him get away again.

I suppose it really is a small world after all; and a rather crazy one, too. You think certain people will be in your life forever, but they fade away from you until you're sure what they look like.

I got up when the train pulled into Rector Street. I couldn't bring myself to approach the woman I thought might be Kate, so I got off the train and started walking down the platform.

In a sense, it really wasn't the same person. She wasn't the same Kate she was 27 years ago and I'm not the same me.

The train doors close and I couldn't resist taking one last look at the woman before she was gone from my life forever.

I turned around and saw that this woman was looking at me. Whether it was out of curiosity--I had been looking her over for several minutes--or recognition I don't know.

And I guess I never will.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dear Mom

(This post originated with an exercise from my Solo Performer 2 class that I’m currently taking at the People’s Improv Theater.

We were asked to write directly to someone and the instant Jen, our instructor, gave us the assignment, I knew to whom I would be writing.

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this on my own, but I guess I was too close to my subject. Anyway, here goes...

Dear Mom,

It’s been five years since you left us and I miss you very much.

I’m still in the house; it’s just me now since Dad died in January and I get pretty lonely sometimes. The place is much too big for me and it holds so many memories.

It seems like every day I find something that reminds me of you.

Joan and I have been cleaning up, slowly, of course, but we’re getting there. We found your wedding dress a few weeks ago. That was a shock, I can tell you.

I always think of that photo of you on your wedding day and how beautiful--and how frightened--you looked.

It’s a bit faded, of course, but we’re going to have it cleaned and offer it to Kristin for her wedding day.

We don’t know what her plans are, but wouldn’t it be lovely if she walked down the aisle in your gown? I know you would be very proud of her.

Remember your little pink jacket? I gave that to Kristin, too. And we’re going to give that old piano stool to her as well. She used to play with that thing endlessly when she was toddler, making me spin her around again and again.

I’m keeping all the old holiday cards and it’s turning into quite a pile. I guess I’m going to have to finally get organized or otherwise I’ll be swamped by all the paper.

I’ve got the photographs, too. There is one of you in a den mother’s uniform, back when we were in the Cub Scouts. You look very sharp.

I remember when I was in the Cub Scouts and whenever I put on my uniform, you'd comb my hair (remember my hair?) and made sure I looked presentable.

You used to call me "Capt. Parmenter" after the character in F Troop, which we used to watch together.

We’re making a pile of things we’ve found in the house that we can sell—nothing of any sentimental value, naturally, just the stuff that accumulates during a family’s lifetime. We’re going to hold a tag sale, which should be an experience.

Speaking of experience, I turned 50 this year. Can you believe that? We had a big party at the Lief to mark the occasion and how I wish you could have been there.

I remember all those great parties you used to throw for me when I was a kid, how you worked so hard to make sure each of us had a great birthday. I'm a little too old for Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I'm afraid. More like Put My Hand on the Geritol.

Marie, Joan and I will be meeting up with Jim, Amy and Victoria (God, she’s so big now!) in December and we’ll be spending Christmas in Hawaii.

This will be the first time I’ve spent a Christmas away from home, but without you and Dad around there isn’t much of a need to stay home. I don’t know what the food there will be like, but I know it could never compare to your lasagna.

I’m still having trouble with my memories about Dad. I know you wanted us to get along with him, but it isn’t easy, even now. I recall so many of the bad things he did, it tends to over-shadow the many times he was good to me.

I don’t have that goodness that you had, that ability to forgive. I wish I did. But I’m going to make every effort to move on from the anger for your sake—and for mine.

I thought about writing a letter to him, but I’m not ready. Maybe I should write two letters: one to the loving father and one to that other guy.

Marie is up in Cummington now, by herself and I’m afraid she’s very lonely. She’s like me, really, alone in a big empty house that used to be filled with people. Summer’s almost over so she’ll have to come home soon.

It's funny how I can still hear your voice. Like when I toss something toward the wastepaper basket, but fail to get it in. When I was kid I would keep walking until you spoke up.

"I believe you missed," you'd say.

And when I eat standing up, I think of how that used to get on your nerves, as you ordered me to sit down and eat like a cristiano!

It's October so I'm getting together my winter clothes for the coming cold weather. And I'm going to wear undershirts, I promise. I know how much it bothered you when I didn't.

We found a pair of your shoes not too long ago and I started to cry. I had forgotten how small your feet were, how small and fragile you were.

I didn’t appreciate how delicate you were and that while you had tremendous a heart, your body was far too brittle for this harsh world.

If I knew how brief your time with me would be, I would have been a much better son than I was. All I can do is ask you to forgive me for all the stupid things I did or said, for all the times I hurt your feelings or made you feel sad.

I wish I could have been successful while you were around, that I could have had a decent career and not made you worry.

And I wish I could have given your grandchildren, but I’m afraid that didn’t work out. I guess I spent so much time being your child, I didn’t think much about having any children of my own.

I want to make you proud of me—and, yes, I know, you’re proud of me already, but you know what I mean.

I don’t want you to worry about me, even though I know you worry about all of us. I’m going to try to be the person you want me to be and not get mired in anger and bad memories.

You taught me so much; it’s just taking a long time to get through this concrete head of mine.

I better get going. A lot of people end their letters by scribbling “wish you were here,” but I really mean that.

I wish you were here, with us, happy and healthy, so you could do your ceramics and your arts and crafts stuff and watch creepy old horror movies.

You were the best thing that ever happened to me, the best friend I ever had, and the best mother anyone could ever have. And I’ll love you forever.

Your son,


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

3:10 to Flatbush

I watched the Italian woman and her daughter approach the ticket window at the Long Beach train station.

The women had about five words of English between them, and the ticket clerk, a heavyset man in a state of permanent exasperation was trying to explain the concept of "off-peak" to them.

"When are you coming back?" he asked.

The mother struggled with the question. A woman standing behind her looked up at the clock and back to the ticket clerk, anxious to buy her ticket.

"Ah...tonight...maybe 8...or later."

I looked away from the scene to check on the status of my train, the 3:10, heading back to the Flatbush Avenue LIRR station. It was on-time and waiting for me out on Track 4A.

I had about 20 minutes to wait so I looked around at the faces that made up the waiting room's cast of characters.

In addition to the Italian women, there was the obese man two chairs away from me, whose bloated body spread over the seat as if he were a permanent part of the bench.

There was the Mexican lady struggling with her packages; a South Asian newsstand vendor, a middle-aged lady reading her newspaper. Two Hispanic men came in, one with the Lt.Uhuru cell phone earpiece, asked about getting a Metro card and were told to go someplace else.

I'm on vacation this week. I had no serious plans, since I'm going to Hawaii in December. I thought I'd just chill around the house this week, doing chores and basking in the joy of not being in the office.

Outside of hanging up new shower curtains, this week has not turned out to be the whirlwind of productivity I was hoping it would be. Didn't finish the novel or send out the short story, didn't pitch the book idea to any small publishers.

I was in Long Island on what I suppose was a blind date. My aunt had given me this woman's number and suggested I give her a call.

I know, I know, if your aunt's fixing you up, there's probably something seriously wrong with your social life. But I didn't see any reason to say no.

I called the woman, who is also on vacation this week, and we agreed I'd come out to her neck of the woods for lunch.

Now I am extremely uncomfortable on the Long Island Railroad. It's not like the subway: this train has tickets and conductors and timetables.

I don't know my way around the island, I don't know any of the towns and I'm always worried I'll step onto the wrong train and be whisked off to some cowtown in the middle of nowhere filled with mean-looking locals in overalls who say things like, "not from around here, are yuh, boy?

That hasn't actually happened to me yet, but I don't ride the train that often.

Anyway, I met this lady for lunch and it was pleasant enough. I didn't hear bells, or whistles come to think of it, but we had a nice conversation over a tasty lunch.

I had figured on spending most of the day with her--I don't think it looks right to eat and run. But after we left the restaurant, she started guiding me back to the train station.

"Thanks for coming out," she said.

Oh, think nothing of it. And I don't think she did. I got the sinking feeling that I was being given the bum's rush. I felt like a package being sent back to the post office.

Was it my appearance? I went for casual, t-shirt and a sports jacket. I had skipped shaving because I was running late, but I liked the stubble look.

I tried to watch my table manners. The only slip-up came with an unruly piece of broccoli rabe that was longer than I realized and put me in the position of chewing down the length of the thing like a race horse scarfing down a carrot.

"I'm sorry," I said between chews.

The only other possible faux pas--or faux pee--occurred when I arrived at Long Beach. I felt the call of nature as soon as the train pulled in, so I dashed into the gent's to do what a man's gotta do.

Dream On...and on...and on...

On my way out I looked down and saw a small but rapidly expanding stain south of the border, which has been happening more often lately. Is this a part of aging or am I just a bad judge of my own plumbing?

Outside of the pope's funeral, I didn't think this could have happened at a more inopportune time.

It makes me think of that little bit of bathroom wall wisdom that goes, "no matter how much you prance and dance, the last few drops go down your pants."

I looked up and saw my date coming toward me and I doubted she would be impressed by my men's room ditty, so I quickly buttoned up the sports coat and prayed it would provide adequate coverage.

Looking back, I sincerely doubt it. Plus it was a warm day, so I looked pretty foolish buttoning up my jacket.

But, hell, I'm human. If my urinary misfire was a deal-breaker, I'm sorry. I'll wear my Depends on our next date.

I really think part of the problem is that this woman and I are too much alike: both middle-aged, unmarried, no kids. We both have these tight, scheduled lives that don't allow much room for anyone else.

Yes, it's been a strange couple of days. The other night I had one of my patented bizarro nightmares. In this one, I'm working at office in Bay Ridge for one of the supervisors in my real world job.

We're working for a magazine that's losing circulation and he sends me out to do a man-on-the-street interview--I always hated those things--to find out why our numbers suck so bad.

One problem: I can't remember the name of the publication I'm working for. I stop people on the street and say, "excuse me, I work for..."

And I can't any further. I struggle for something to say, but when you don't know the name of your own magazine, your credibility takes a pretty serious hit.

Later I'm walking through some park in my neighborhood that I've never seen and I meet a colleague who looks like Rachel Dratch. She has just interviewed a ton of people, putting me to shame.

I try to tell her something...and I can't remember her name either.

Now the forgetting part may be rooted in the fact that my shrink forgot about our session on Monday. We had changed to an earlier time since I was on vacation and he forgot to note in his appointment book.

It honestly didn't bother me--these things happen. But my subconsious got hold of that little tidbit, made me the amnesiac, and ran for the end zone.

Then the dream took a full-throttle shift to the fiery pits of Hell. Suddenly I was in my house and our our evil tenants, who ran out on us in the dead of night shortly after my father died, have returned.

The Wife comes out first with a police escort--which she would sorely need if she ever showed her hideous mug around here--and the Husband, a worthless dope who constantly pretended he didn't know about anything--kind of like Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes."

"I'm disappointed in you!" I shout at the husband, echoing that kid who confronted Shoeless Joe Jackson. "I'm disappointed in you!"

I don't where the hell that came from and really don't want to find out. Nitcheze had a quote about looking into the abyss and having the abyss look back. I think I know he meant.

It was time to get on board the train. I walked down the track and saw the two Italian women, the mother holding the ticket up to a rather puzzled-looking conductor.

I really wanted to help, but my Italian is so rusty it would creak like the hinges on Count Dracula's coffin lid.

So I slid into my seat and watched the scenery roll by. It wasn't the greatest date I've ever had, but at least I knew my way home. And my new shower curtains would be waiting for me.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Stairway to Nowhere

It's amazing how certain images can get into head and makes themselves at home.

The other night I was walking along Third Avenue when I happened to look up at the health club on 71st Street and saw a man on the Stairmaster.

There was something about this guy that just stuck in my mind. He was alone, framed in the window, little more than a silhouette.

The gym, of which I am a member, seemed to be empty, except for this man, who methodically pumped his legs up and down like a wind-up toy.

It was pretty late, close to 11 p.m., and it was Wednesday, Hump Day, so people were out celebrating the work week's downward slide. I was one of them, having just left the Salty Dog after a night with my Bay Ridge Meet-Up group.

But the Stairmaster man was above it all, looking down on the avenue while strenuously going nowhere. It seemed like such a lonely forlorn image that it made me think of an Edward Hopper painting.

I'm sure if I knew the guy's story all the drama I saw in that window would vanish in an instant. Maybe he works odd hours and this is the only time he can make it to the gym. He's probably happily married with 10 kids and boatloads of friends and no need of my sympathy.

Or perhaps he's a swinger on his way to an orgy just as soon as he got down with his workout--though, if that were the case, he should have saved his energy--and invited me along.

Since I don't know his story, I'm free to treat him like a blank canvaas and paint him any way that suits me.

The gym is housed in a building that has had more lives that a battalion of cats.

It used to be a bingo hall when I was growing up and I think prior to that it was one of the neighborhood's several movie theaters, a group that has slowly been picked off like victims in a murder mystery until only the Alpine on Fifth Avenue remains.

The upstairs was once the home of a karate school, the Paja Dojo, and I used to go there--oh, thank God I'm sitting down--something like 27 years ago.

That was back in my tough guy wannabe phase, when everybody was watching Bruce Lee movies and Kung Fu on TV.

I was picked on at school, so I thought I'd take karate and transform myself into a lethal weapon, a fearless fighter who took on a dozen opponents at a time and ruthlessly pounded the living crap out of every one of them.

What I got was a lot of bruises as I learned how to fall and block punches and kicks. Martial arts instructors like to say that size doesn't matter in a fight, but I have to disagree.

The techniques are very nice, but if you're duking it out with someone larger than you, get ready for some serious pain. A lot of the "instruction" involved hitting our opponent in the groin, which is hardly a secret that needs to be passed down from the masters.

Ju-jitsu, or at least the way it was taught in this school, seemed to be based on the idea of reacting to whatever your opponent does. The attacker throws some half-assed punch and you step in do some routine that involves hurling the guy to the ground.

Unfortunately, nasty people aren't so obliging in the real world. And, Jesus Christ, I learned more ways to defend myself against a lapel grab that I would ever need.

Tell me something: has anyone ever died or been seriously injured because someone grabbed the lapel of his jacket? Granted, it's not very nice, but it's not the kind of attack that warrants a whole playbook of defenses.

But I didn't know any better back then, so every Monday and Thursday, I'd pulled back the heavy metal door with the rusty hinges and walk up the stairs to the second floor.

Unlike the Shaolin Temple, this place was run by Bensonhurt types, who would urge you to "trow" a punch so they could "trow" you on the ground. Several of them were New York Sanitation men, and they were some of the strongest people I've ever met.

There were some pretty wild guys in the class. One in particular, a brown belt I'll call Sammy, was scarier than most muggers and he was constantly yelling at us for not paying attention.

"Youse know it," he'd say, "but youse are getting lazy!"

I was present one night when Sammy beat the crap out of another of student thinking the guy had slighted him.

We all sat there in our little uniforms while this big psycho knocked the kid down and started throwing punches on the guy's head until the two instructors broke it up.

"Who you talkin' to?" Sammy snarled. "I'm not ya sista, you punk."

Funny, I don't recall Master Po doing anything like this to David Carradine.

Time For You To Leave

I think I made it to the green belt level, but the school's membership dropped off and I stopped going, much to the disappointment of my sensei.

He had invited an instructor from another school, a dojo in a rough, poor section of Brooklyn, and all his students were mean and tough. They didn't screw around with lapel grabs and I quickly learned I wasn't the killer I thought I was.

Eventually, the tough guys left and some of our students went with them, while others, like me, dropped out all together.

My sensei was a guard a bank where my mother worked, though at a different branch when he saw her said how disappointed he was not to have heard from me.

"It only takes one phone call," he told my mother. And he was right.

The bingo hall is long gone, replaced by a McDonald's and a Rite Aid store. And the Paja Dojo is gone and that floor now houses one of the New York Sports Club gyms.

I don't go to that gym often. The Bay Ridge branch doesn't have the boxing classes I enjoy--see, I'm still an aspiring badass--so I just go there in a pinch to use the Stairmaster.

I thought of the Stairmaster man over the weekend, when I wound up doing absolutely nothing.

On Friday I had schedule a movie night with a Meet-up group and three people had clicked off "Maybe."

So I waited into the lobby of the Brooklyn Academy of Music until 10 minutes before showtime and went in to watch the movie by myself. On Saturday, well, I was going to go into Manhattan to a club, but I got lazy.

Instead of getting off my rear end, I watched some mixed martial arts events on TV; it's much safer to watch other people stomp each other than actually fight yourself.

After a Netflix break, I finally decided I was going to go out in the neighborhood. This is one my favorite lies that I tell myself.

I go out the door, wander up and down the streets like Kwai Chang Caine and pretend I'm actually going to go into one of the many bars in the area and hang out, maybe meet somebody.

But I always find an excuse to not actually go into the bars: it's too noisy, it's too crowded, I don't know anybody, etc.

Then I walk back home and resume my place in front of the TV. Maybe I should invest in a Stairmaster and save myself the trouble of going out.

There seemed to be an unusual amount of idiots out on this night. As I reached 73rd Street, I saw some fat loser with a huge 80's rapper-style chain around his neck trying to pick a fight with the clerk at a Korean fruit store across the street.

"C'mon, let's go," the fat slob said, sounding like Sammy from my old dojo.

He had a friend with him and the clerk didn't respond to his invitation. On the way out of the store, I saw the slob pick up a tomato and toss it at a passing bus.

Apparently it missed because a parked car near me lit up as the alarm started yelping. I was wondering if the guy was trying to disrepect me. Maybe I should go over there and grab his lapel...

No, of course, I didn't. I went home to watch Saturday Cinema 13, which was showing The Band Wagon with Fred Astaire. He sings a song early in the movie about being alone in the city and I could add a few lyrics to that tune myself.

I always love reading about the studio executive who gave a brutal assessment of Astaire's talent when the dancing legend was just starting out: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little." Now there was a man with vision.

Stories like these give hope to people who believe they have talent in spite of an entire planet that seems to feel otherwise. I can't act, or sing, I'm beyond balding and I can't dance worth a damn. But I'm still hopeful.

The next day I broke away from the TV and sat down to eat with some real human beings. This was the monthly meeting of Brookyn Blogade, a group of bloggers from all over the borough.

This month's event was held in Bed-Stuy, at Le Toukouleur, a French-African restaurant on Quincy Street.

I confess I was a little nervous about venturing into this neighborhood, but I realized I was giving into my comfort zone and promptly forced myself out the door.

I must tell you something here and now: that G train really sucks.

Petra, our hostess, said she wanted us to experience riding on this anemic rail line and I got the full treatment, including the incredibly lousy service and the annoying business where the train stops in the middle of the station, forcing you to run like hell in order to get on board.

It's like every day is April Fool's Day on this train.

But it was worth it. I saw another part of my city, I walked by a store front church, where I could hear fabulous gospel singers, and I had a delicious meal with great company. Even the G train couldn't put a damper on that.

On the way back to the train station, I realized that, outside of three block walk to the subway, I had absolutely no idea where I was.

It made me think of my father, who knew every inch of Brooklyn: you could tell him a street and he'd tell you the fastest way to get there. I obviously didn't inherit this ability.

My father also gave me great advice that he had picked up in the military. The three rules for surviving in the army, he said, were keep your mouth shut, your bowels open and don't volunteer.

Well, I missed last part, as I--ugh!--volunteered to host the next Blogade meeting in Bay Ridge. I was constantly complaining that this group never came out my way, so it was put up or shut up time.

I made the mistake of looking for a place to host the event as soon as I got home on Sunday. I had forgotten that the Third Avenue Fair was in full swing and nobody had the time to talk business.

But that's okay: I'll find a place and make my fellow bloggers feel at home in Bay Ridge. My dad may not be happy that I volunteered, but I know somewhere Master Po is smiling.