Monday, April 30, 2007

Showtime!


If You Can Walk, You Can Dance
If You Can Talk, You Can Sing

--Zimbabwean Proverb


I made my theatrical debut this evening, starring in my one-man show "The Memory Mill."

This was the culmination of the eight week class I took at the People's Improv Theater, or PIT for short. I can't believe how quickly the time went by.

And I can't believe I actually stood up before a group of people and did my six-minute piece.

Earlier in the day, I got an e-mail from a fiction magazine rejecting a short story I had sent to them several weeks ago. That meant I'd really have to do great things on stage.

I was nervous about the show, but not as much as I thought I would be. Of course, it's a friendly crowd and the venue is pretty small. Our class show began at 5:30 p.m. on a Monday night, so we didn't have to worry about overflow crowds.

But no matter--we did it and I'm very glad we did. I had been rehearsing every night for about two weeks, reciting my piece aloud after dinner. I was originally going to memorize the whole story, but I decided to bring a copy of the piece with me onstage just in case my mind bailed out the back of my head.

The constant practice helped. I felt comfortable with the words I had written and I was able to look out at the audience instead of staring down at sheets of paper.

It felt strange meeting backstage with my classmates before the show. Usually I enjoy theater from the audience, now I was getting ready to take the stage. There was a heavy bag back there, so, of course, I had to pound on that for a while to relieve some tension and show off for the women.

When will I grow up? Why, never, of course.

As I stood there, in a mild state of shock, I realized there was nothing in my experience to compare with this evening. I've never performed on stage, not even in school plays. I've always done my best work from behind the keyboard.

My memory searched through the files of my brain and then--poof!--I remembered the time I took the Cub Scout Oath in the cafeteria of Our Lady of Angel's Elementary School some 40-odd years ago.

I was a solo performer back then, too. Usually they swore a couple of Cub Scouts at a time, but on this night, I was going in on my own. For some reason I recall being blindfolded, like I had been kidnapped by terrorists, but my mind could be playing tricks on me.

I recited my oath perfectly and my parents were so proud of me. They both swore no one had ever done a better job and it didn't occur to me until tonight that they were probably just a little prejudiced in my favor.

But I still savored the memory. The fact is, I performed that night many years ago and I was a hit. And I would do the same this evening.

As we did our pre-show warm-ups, I looked to the back of the theater and saw a quote painted on the back wall reading: "Follow the Fear."

That summed up my reason for taking the class and being in this show. I was so afraid of doing it, I knew that I had to. It's good advice for life, too, whether it's going a better job or approaching that certain someone you think won't give you the time day.

On My Honor, I Will Do My Best

There were eight of us and naturally I was the last to go on. I don't know even why I mention it, because that's just how things work out for me. But I was okay with it.

I had invited my Aunt Marie, best bud Hank, and dear friend Paula, to come down and suffer through this with me and they were there, one row behind me. Big thumbs up for Paula for coming down after her first day on a new job and following the recent death of her mother. It did my heart good to see her.

As I watched my classmates perform, I found was enjoying their work tremendously. Perhaps it was the live, theatrical setting but everybody's piece seemed to really crackle with energy.

I was getting intimated as I watched some of the other people. They were professional actors, playing a part. I don't have those skills and I would look foolish even trying.

I decided that instead of being scared by their talent, I would get inspiration from it. I would feed off their abilities and enthusiasm and use that energy in my piece.

When the person before me went on stage, I started thinking that maybe I should walk out--just not do the show. What the hell? It's my money, if I don't feel like going on stage, that's my business.

These thoughts weren't serious, but there was a very powerful force in me that didn't want to go through this evening. Some part of me didn't want to follow the fear; this part wanted to run away from the fear, to give in to it.

Then Jen, our teacher, called out my name, and I went up on stage, got the podium, and proceeded to do my thing.

I found the bright lights helpful as they blotted out most of the crowd. I knew they were out there, but I could barely see them. And that was fine with me.

My solo piece is about living in my family's house by myself. I talked about what it was like when I was a kid, when it bustled with activity, and how it is now pretty much an empty building, as my parents are gone and my siblings have all moved out.

And you know, it felt pretty good. I was able to speak clearly, at a normal speed, as opposed to the over-caffinated hyper-drive I usually revert to when I'm flapping my gums. I stuttered once or twice, but it was nothing serious.

When it was over, people applaued, and then we all came up to take the class bow. I saw that my aunt was crying and--I hate to say this--but that's a good sign. It means I reached her with my words.

And, even better, one of my classmate's friends approached me and told me she really liked my work. Praise from a total stranger is very encouraging.

After that I said goodbye to my friends and we went out for a nice Thai pig-out dinner. I called my aunt later this evening and she encouraged me to keep up with my creative endeavors.

"Get a good night's sleep tonight," she said, "and then tomorrow is another day."

Yes, it is. But this was quite an evening. Maybe not as exciting as the night I recited the Cub Scout Oath, but it was damn close.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Napoleon Van Winkle


Did any truly insane person ever claim to be Napoleon?

That was the standard image of lunacy in so many movies and TV shows for so many years that I'm wondering how it got started.

Most cliches have an origin in reality, so maybe somewhere, someplace, many years ago, some poor bugger slipped his hand under his jacket and shouted "Vive la France!"

I got to thinking about Napoleon the other night as I rode home on the subway. A group of rather large young men got on the N train at 36 Street and stood by the door near me.

One of them was carrying a shoulder bag and a baseball bat, which made me a little nervous. Back in the Seventies, when New York was a real hellhole, these young punks used to walk around with baseball bats.

Anyone could see that they had no intention of enjoying the national pastime, but it would be impossible to prove otherwise. I'm sure had they been stopped by a cop, the little dirt bags would whine about being on their way to the park right now, even if it had been 2 a.m. on a January night.

Of course, this is all water under the bridge, as those little dirt bags must now be middle-aged men, who, I hope, have since put down the baseball bats and become productive members of society.

I think this guy from the other night was legit. It was warm and the presence of the bag suggested that he had really been playing ball someplace.

These guys were loud and while that's annoying, I should be thankful that they weren't violent. It's just like so many people in this city and this world, these guys did not know how to behave in public.

As they got louder, I noticed a man across the way from me. He was sound asleep with his hand in his parka just like...Napoleon.

The position was odd, but what was even stranger was the fact that he didn't wake up, even though this group of young men were shouting and laughing like they were at a Giants game.

I looked a little closer and saw that he was wearing striped navy blue pants, which suggested that he was a security guard. If that's the case, I sure as hell don't want him watching over anything of mine. All that noise and he's still asleep? Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Of course, the poor guy might have worked a double-shift, delivered three babies, and rounded up an international drug cartel before clocking out. In that case, I'd let him sleep in for a few more minutes.

I got off the train and 59th Street and the loud crowd came with me. Napoleon Van Winkle didn't move and he could have gone all the way out to Coney Island and spent the night in the train yard the way he was sawing them off. Gosh, I'd love to be able to sleep like that.

I had another Seventies flashback on Friday when I went to a wine tasting in Downtown Brooklyn. As I walked down Atlantic Avenue, with yuppies scurrying to and fro, a man's voice boomed out of a local mosque in the call to prayer.

That's Brooklyn for you--mosques and yuppie wine bars operating within just a few blocks of each other. Back in the Seventies I would not have walked done Atlantic Avenue for anything, especially on a Friday night.

Of course, there were no yuppie wine bars on Atlantic Avenue back in those days. I used to ride with my father down to main post office in Grand Army Plaza and we'd ride back along Atlantic Avenue, making sure to stay inside the car.

She Comes Down Yellow Mountain

The store fronts were dark and usually empty. Anyone out on the street was either racing to get home or looking for trouble.

I remember seeing this hispanic man attack this black guy, bouncing up and down and punching him, chanting "c'mon, c'mon." The other guy didn't want any part of it and he kept walking. I don't blame him.

My dad said he saw a knife fight going on there on the avenue, with two guys holding knives in one hand and waving their jackets in the other. If I recall the story, the fight ended when the guys spotted a cop car coming down the block and took off in opposite directions.

The wine tasting was fun and I only got mildly crocked. On the way back to the subway, I walked by a bar that has been on Atlantic and Third avenues for years. My dad called it a "bucket of blood" 30 years ago and it was hard to argue with him.

The place was dark, all sorts of lowelifes were hanging around or going inside. There was a peeling paint on the wall of the place reading "Where Good Friends Meet."

Yes, they meet there and plot to murder their enemies.

I liked that saying so much that I used it as a title for my first attempt at a novel. It was a revenge story about a guy who gets double-crossed by his buddy, and the buddy's goons pound our hero to a pulp and toss him into the Narrows.

The hero survives and takes his revenge, but I never did get that story done. I think my characters were hanging out in the bar and thus the saying was--prepare yourself--ironic.

The bar is now a funky music place and I got an earful as I walked by. It still has a dive bar look to it, but they painted over that sign.

I had so much fun Friday night that I didn't make any plans for Saturday night, which sucked. I watched the new Bond flick on DVD--too many ridiculous stunts for my taste--and then...well, then I took a walk around Bay Ridge ostensibly to find a place to hang out, but like many times before, it didn't happen.

The bars were noisy and crowded, filled mostly with young people. There were mobs of young kids, like the subway bunch I mentioned, walking the streets and every so often some schmuck would leave rubber and fly up the street in his car.

I felt like a stranger and it seemed every Brooklyn stereotype was on display--loud mouths, loud cars, just loud in general. But I was also part of the problem.

I walked up to an Irish bar on Third Avenue, but I could hear the music from half a block away as some rather untalented lady was murdering the old Irish standard "Whisky in the Jar." I did an about-face and headed home.

I walked by the Killarney Pub, where I rang in the new year for two years running, and saw it was filled with elderly men, sort of like my dad's nursing home in Coney Island. I'm not ready for the old man's bar just yet.

I'm feeling very lonely lately and I'm not sure what I can about it. I guess the first step is make sure I have plans on the weekend, especially now that winter is over. I've used bad weather as an excuse for too long.

I had more Seventies flashback this morning when NPR did a story about the song "Wildfire," this sappy faux folk song from 30-odd years ago. I know that sounds negative, but I assoicate the song with a girl I was dating at the time.

She was so sensitive and loving, and she just adored that song. She thought Neil Diamond was a poet. And when she dumped my ass she wrote me a long letter saying how sorry she was.

I thought hearing about the song this morning would make me angry, but I actually enjoyed the report. Michael Martin Murphey, the singer, said the song came to him in a dream and they played portions of it during the story.

And I liked it; I was almost teary-eyed when he sang about the girl dying in the snowstorm. And, most importantly, I wasn't mad at the girl anymore.

We're both 50 years old now and I haven't seen her since 1979. I hope she's happy and I hope I find somebody so I don't have to wonder around Bay Ridge on a Saturday night looking for company.

So, I guess my mental state is improving. Or I'm getting so nutty that I don't even realize it. If I start saying that Neil Diamond is a poet, you better call the men in the white coats.

Vive le France!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Study in Stagnation


Sometimes a phrase that has absolutely nothing to do with you can hit you like a freight train.

I had that happen today as I was doing story about a restaurant chain that was in the middle of a proxy fight.

One of these takeover artists wanted to shake the company's board and he issued a press release declaring the outfit was "a study in stagnation."

Wasn't that a Sherlock Holmes mystery? Or is it the story of my life? I feel like it's the latter some days because it just seems I'm getting nowhere--career, love life, writing, pretty much across the board. I'm in the same house I grew up in and a few weeks short of the half-century mark.

Stagnating? Elementary, my dear Watson.

Many years ago, I had a "friend" (please note the quotation marks) who felt it necessary to tell me that I was stagnating. Well, I certainly was when it came to choosing my friends.

And I'm happy to report that this particular putz is out of my life. But that word--stagnating--still lingers. Even when no one is talking about me.

Man of Irony

I've been trying to change. Since I have all this trouble with anger, I took a day-long seminar on that very topic at a yoga center in the Village. My sister was supposed to come with me, but she pulled out at the last minute and asked me to take her name off the waiting list.

"Are you mad at me?" she asked.

"It's an anger class," I said. "I really can't get mad at you."

Of course once I made that resolution, it seemed like everybody and his brother set out to piss me off. Like the guy at the fruit stand, who was feeling up every single apple so thoroughly that I was about to suggest they should all get a room.

I don't mind people being picky about their fruit, but while this clown was molesting the apples he had a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I see, so you want the perfect apple, but lung cancer doesn't bother you? Makes perfect sense.

Is that irony? I'm not sure. I was thinking about the guy at work the other week whose wife was just about to give birth to their second child. He came in for one day to clean up some business and while he puttered around his desk, he was singing Paul Simon's old hit, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover."

"Are you trying to tell us something, Sam?" I asked. He smiled, he laughed, but he didn't answer. And now he's got a new baby boy.

So I get up early for the anger seminar and, of course, my train grinds to a halt somewhere around Pacific Street. Any other time I wouldn't have cared if the damn thing went off the tracks, but I didn't want to be late for anger seminar and I was getting very pissed off.

After a lot of fuming, the train finally pulls out and I get to the yoga place in time. But on the way in, this young woman, who looked rather manly, started to walk through the front door like I wasn't there.

She had a Yankees cap perfectly titled to one side of her head, and this red kerchief tied around her neck, like a freaking Halloween costume and it made me so mad, I wanted to smack her upside the head. Did I mention I was going to an anger seminar?

The seminar was good, honestly. We had several lengthy meditation periods, some yoga stretches, and some mindful walking, where the group walks in circles without speaking. You just focus on your feet moving along the floor--heel, ball, toe, heel, ball, toe. It looks a little cultish, but I actually got used to it.

We had a three-hour lunch break and the teacher wanted us to walk mindfully for the first half-hour.

I put in about 25 or 28 minutes, which wasn't easy, since I was walking around downtown Manhattan on a Saturday, and I was just dying to reach for my cellphone like a gunsligher and check my messages.

For the afternoon, we tried lying (laying?) on our backs while the teacher spoke to us. I feel asleep for a few minutes and felt quite ashamed until a woman sitting next to me told me later that the same thing had happened to her.

The seminar ended with a kind of bull session about the nature of anger. It was all right, but I confess I was hoping to get a how-to, as in how-to deal with my anger step by step. I was a little disappointed, but I wasn't angry about it, which I take as a good sign.

When I left that place, I felt so loose, so at peace, I wished could have bottled that sensation so I could just gulp it down any time. But if peace and contentment came in a bottle, everybody would want it.

Hands Up

I did something today that would have been unthinkable for me at one time. I work on Wall Street, just half-a-block from Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The other day I noticed that the have a service for the laying on of hands every Thursday at lunch time.

I was fascinated. It sounded so primitive, like a tent-revival meeting that you'd see in Elmer Gantry . Were people going to shout "Praise God I'm healed!" and throw down their crutches?

We didn't have anything like that in Catholic school when I was growing up, outside of Communion, Ash Wednesday and that smack across the face at Confirmation.

I remember the blessing of the throat, where a priest would go around the class, cross two candles and put them on either side of your throat to ward off illness. Maybe I should do that more often, come to think of it.

But someone actually laying their hands on you? No, not unless the nuns or the brothers were going to hit you.

I decided to investigate this laying on the hands business. I walked back to the small chapel where the service was being held and I was of several minds--part cynic, part anthropologist, part true believer. I was thinking this so weird, but I wanted to know more.

I saw a short line of people before two female ministers--something else we don't have in the Catholic Church. There were no people in wheelchairs or walking with seeing eye dogs. They were just...people, on their lunch break like me, or just passing through.

I was going to leave, thinking that as a Catholic, I shouldn't be taking part in any Protestant service. But I wanted to know more and since this is the Year Without Fear, I got on line.

When I got to the minister, this very kindly looking lady asked me what I wanted to pray for. I start babbling, I'm depressed, I'm angry, I don't what do. She asked me my name and then she put two soft, lovely hands around my bald head.

She started to pray, hoping that I would fine peace and contentment in Jesus, and I was almost in tears by the time she was done.

It just felt so good--I was truly at peace and I realized that despite all my rationalization, I went in there not as some psychic investigator, but as someone who wanted help, who wanted someone to touch me and try to make things better.

The rest of the day was horrible and I really wished that instead of going back to the office, I had turned right, gone to the subway station and gone home.

But this isn't some kind of magic, a way of warding off bad times and evil spirits. It's just someone touching you and trying to make it better. It's better than stagnating in anger.

I wonder if I can go back next Thursday.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Language Lesson





I learned a new word the other day: matanza.

That’s Spanish for “massacre.” I saw it the other day at my local newsstand, on the front page of El Diario.

There it was, just above a photo of the slaughter in Virginia. Matanza. I wasn't quite sure what it meant, but I figured it out from the context.

Another Spanish paper made it a little easier. Their headline ran “Tragedia en Virginia." Pretty hard to misinterpret that. All along the news rack, foreign language papers carried the story about Cho Seung-Hui, who gunned down 32 innocent people before killing himself.

Russian, Chinese, Greek, a virtual U.N. of headlines, dedicated to what seems to be that most American phenomenon, the mass shooting.

Yes, I know this kind of thing happens in other countries, but with nowhere near the same horrifying frequency. And, yes, the guy wasn't born in America, but he spent 14 years of his life here, so the illegal alien hysteria doesn't apply.

If you lived here long enough, you know the drill. The story comes out in bits and pieces, with reports of a shooting at a certain location.

Then it turns into multiple shootings and we get the shaky news footage of people running or sobbing into each other’s arms, ambulances and police cars roaring up to the scene. It could be anywhere in the country, and it usually is.

Technology has added a new wrinkle and now thanks to the Internet we know nothing faster than ever before. Then there's the diagrams of the killer’s progress, mapping out the assault like an historical battle, rather than fresh carnage.

By now, you could probably show the same footage of these crime scenes over and over again and few people would know the difference.

To paraphrase that great American Ronald Reagan, himself a shooting victim, if you’ve seen one mass murder, you’ve seen them all.

Gradually, we get the whole story, usually a variation on the disgruntled loner who got his hands on a gun.

We learn of the innocents who died, hear about acts of bravery. There will be candlelight vigils, speeches by politicians, as people vow they will never forget these terrible events and never let them happen again.

And then it will happen again.

Been There, Done That

We also get the rundown of previous massacres, reported as if they were sports statistics. We set a record in Virginia, the largest mass killing in American history. This guy beat out the Columbine murderers and Charles Whitman, the Texas sniper from 40 years ago. Aren't you proud?

I started to read a web story about the Virginia Tech victims, with each face appearing briefly on the screen with a short bio and then fading on the next one.

I learned about their backgrounds, their talents, their hopes and dreams that were cut short, but it reminded me of the 911 victims and I had to click off. The victims are all stand-ins for us and our loved ones.

I'm trying to recall where I was when some of these shootings occurred, though they do blend together after a while. I have only the vaguest memories of the Texas tower shootings. I was only nine years old.

My dad talked about that shooting for a while, probably because that kind of thing was unheard of back then. He told a story about a fat man at the scene who ran out into the line of fire repeatedly to pull victims back to safety.

There was actually a fairly decent TV movie made about the Texas case back it 1975. It told the story of this nightmare without exploiting it.

There was a case in 1984 where a guy killed 21 people at a McDonald’s in California. The last thing he said to his wife as he left the house that morning was “I’m going to hunt humans.”

There was an attempt to make a TV movie out of that case, but the victims’ families raised such hell that the network back off. I suspect that their timing was off.

The Texas movie came out nearly 10 years after the actual incident, while the studios were rushing to the McDonald’s story just days after it happened, so it would have been like making a photocopy of the massacre just months after it happened.

In the end, there was no movie and McDonald’s demolished the restaurant.

I was working at a job I really hated at the time—I know that news, but this was really bad---and I had a lot of trouble with anger back then, much more than I have today. (No wisecracks, please.) I loathed my supervisors but I hadn’t developed the emotional cloaking skills needed to survive in the business world.

One afternoon, shortly after the McDonald’s incident, I was talking to someone on the phone and I was furious about something that had happened in the office.

So I loudly declared into the phone that I was sorry the police had shot the California killer as I would have happily paid his airfare to New York and set him loose in my office.

It was an amazingly stupid thing to say and I quite ashamed of myself. It's disrepectful to the victims, frightening to my co-workers, even if I didn't like them, it was just wrong. And it was bad for me.

What Me—Hostile?

It’s the kind of thing that would have people wondering if you’re not a disgruntled loner. I got fired from that job a few months later, but aside from calling my supervisior an asshole, I left without incident.

I was working in Pennsylvania when a guy drove into a cafeteria in Texas and killed 23 people. I recall there was some local angle on that story—perhaps a victim of the shooting was from our coverage area, I can’t remember.

By the time Columbine rolled around, I was working at CNN, so I was surrounded by TV's and computers blurting out the story almost as it happened.

As with other massacres, the Virginia case will spark a lot of talk about gun control, which will be swiftly by the usual lack of action.

While newspapers around the world ask what the hell is going on in American, why are innocent men, women and children being slaughtered, people here will be going on about their constitutional right to carry guns, even though the amendment was written at a time when people carried flintlocks, not semi-automatic handguns that can blanket the air with bullets.

Some pundits are actually suggesting that if Virginia Tech hadn’t outlawed firearms on campus, the students might have been able to fight back against their attacker.

Let me see now: we have a college campus, where young people drink, deal with the pressures of their studies, their families, and their relationships. And sometimes they get really angry.

So, of course, letting them carry guns to school is the perfect solution--if you want to have a massacre every weekend, that is. But then, of course, it’s our God given right to blow each other’s brains out.

Yes, that’s America, where we regulate abortions, but not assault weapons. Focus on the fetus, but not the stacks of corpses piled up around us.

The gun crowd has nothing to worry about. In case you're confused, just remember this little ditty: the NRA will have always its way in the USA.

As long as they're stuffing money into politicians’ pockets, we’ll be zipping innocent people into body bags. And Matanza will keep appearing on the front pages.

I'm taking a day-long yoga meditation class on anger this Saturday. I think I've made progress on keeping my temper, but I thought I might benefit from this seminar. I don't want to be making any more angry phone calls from the office.

But I'm also going to brush up on my language skills. How do you say “God help us all” in Spanish?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So It Goes


I'll never get the chance to tell Kurt Vonnegut how much I loved his work.

He died Wednesday from injuries he suffered in a fall at his home in Manhattan.

His death was similar to my father's back in January--he fell, hit his head, and a short time later he died.

And like my father, Kurt Vonnegut was a veteran of World War II. The similarity pretty much ends there, but it's tough to see another member of that generation fade away.

There was a time in my life when it seemed I was reading nothing but Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, I read them all and wanted more.

He had a book of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, that really showed how he evolved as a writer. It's been a long time, but I remember reading a few stories that I would be tempted to call clunkers.

One was about American POW's in the Korean War who are forced to play in a human chess match where they are the pieces.

Each time they lose a man, the poor guy gets killed. It had a trashy, pulp fiction (pre-Tarantino) feel it to and you would never guess that the same writer would go on to create the likes of Billy Pilgrim.

But then there was another story, "Deer in the Works," which, as I recall, was about a man who works at this huge industrial plant--Vonnegut worked at a GE plant in Upstate New York--and at one point he's watching as a deer runs frantically through this vast, unfriendly place.

The story was very simple and the image of that terrified deer was unforgettable.

Whenever I read a Vonnegut book, I felt like a member of some elite club. I thought all these dummies around me didn't have the brains to get what Kurt was trying to say.

The Children's Crusade

There was a character in Slaughterhouse Five called Paul Lazzaro who had this threat that he made constantly. I don't remember it exactly, but it went something like this:

"One day there's going to be a knock on your door. A guy is going to shoot your pecker off. He's going to let you live for a few minutes to see what it's like to go through life without a pecker and then he's going to shoot you in the head."

Whenever I was joking with my friends and one of us got ticked off, he'd point to the other and begin, "one day, there's going to be a knock on your door..."

George Roy Hill made a fine film version of the novel, which was no easy trick, given how the story shifted from World War II Germany to the future to outer space. Billy Pilgrim, after all, had become unstuck in time.

Nick Nolte also appeared in a film version of Mother Night, which I remember as being pretty good, but I'd like to see it again. I recall watching it and thinking how it took nerve to make a picture like this, when most movies just blow stuff up.

Vonnegut slowed down and I gradually moved on to other writers. I wonder how he'd write up the current freak show that our society has become. The disaster in Iraq, the neocon assault on our country--this is great material for a man like Vonnegut.

Like a lot things from years ago, I don't remember his work so much as I remember my obsession for his work. He was just so big in my life at one time. Maybe I should dig up some of his old paperbacks I have around here and read them again.

I think of how Billy Pilgrim would move through time and then look at how I carry the past around with me. I still get angry over things that happened years ago, still regret the things I did and the things I didn't do. In a sense I'm unstuck in time, too.

I have to confess that one of the first things I felt reading his obituary--after sadness, of course--was a strange kind of liberation.

I sometimes feel guilty about my father's death, as it happened when I was in the house. It was 3 AM and I was sound asleep, but I felt badly for a long time. It happened on my watch, I would tell people.

Those feelings slowly faded, but apparently they were still inside my skull someplace, floating around, waiting to come out. I don't know what to make of all that, but I bet Kurt Vonnegut would.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pajama Game


I’ve got to stop to dreaming like this.

It was Monday night into Tuesday morning. In this dream I’m sitting on a crowded subway train during the morning rush, and squeezed into one of the benches.

I’m on my way to work…in my pajamas.

They were my pajamas, too. I looked down and I recognized the pattern. I could feel the subway floor against my bare feet and I was panicking: how the hell did I leave my house like this? And what am I going to do about it?

No one else on the train seemed to notice my bizarre attire. These are New Yorkers, after all, and even dream New Yorkers mind their own business and pretend nothing’s wrong no matter what's going on.

Still, these people were like zombies. They all had their noses buried in magazines and newspapers and steadfastly refused to acknowledge me, which was probably a good thing given my clothing, but it really creeped me out. Say something, damn it. Don't pretend this is normal.

People in dreams can be so dense.

For some reason I had my gym bag with me, so I had enough sense to carry my shorts, jock strap, and the rest of that stuff. I just skipped the part about getting dressed.

I knew I couldn't stay on the train any longer and I bailed at Pacific Street. The next thing I remember I was in an alley behind a house in some area that looked nothing like the real Pacific Street and I was putting on my training shoes.

I seemed to need privacy to put on a pair shoes, even though I was prancing around in my pajamas. That doesn't make much sense, but I remember feeling more comfortable as I headed back to the train station to go home to get clothes. Ah, shoes. Now I can face the world.

Okay, so what’s going on here? My shrink will make me break this dream down when I tell him about it, so here are a few thoughts.

Clearly being improperly dressed in a public place reveals a fear of losing control. Now on Monday morning, my brother and his family went back to San Francisco after a week long vacation. The week, which was as cold as a bastard, just flew by so quickly and by Sunday I was worn out.

A Candy Colored Clown

My niece, Victoria, wanted to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center on Easter Sunday, but I decided to stay home. It was still cold, I was beat, and I had to go to work the next day. We were all going to have Easter dinner that night anyway.

I saw the Easter Bunny skating around the ice rink on the TV news that evening and I learned that Christmas Day was actually a few degrees warmed than Easter. That kind of thing can you make you real nervous.

I laid low during the day then hiked up to this fine Italian restaurant about 20 blocks from my house. I hooked up with the family and had a good time.

Easter, like all the holidays, is not the same now that my parents are gone, but it makes me more thankful for the loved ones I do have. And it means I will have to change the way I celebrate these holidays.

I said goodbye to Victoria and Amy, my sister-in-law, and my brother Peter took Jim and me home. The next morning I made breakfast for me and Jim, squeezed his shoulder and headed off to work. I always worry when my family has to fly so I tried not to think about Jim and his family in the air. Just wait until they call, I told myself.

The family house was empty again and I moved back into my (formerly my parents' bedroom), which I had allowed Jim to use while I crashed on the couch. I suppose I could have slept in my old room, but the cleaning work required to make it liveable would have taken the whole week.

Then I got the call. At midnight on Monday, while I was in bed. A call that late is either bad news or a wrong number, so I flew out of bed and ran down the hall—in my pajamas—to answer the phone.

It was Jim calling from Denver. Their plane out of LaGuardia had been delayed and they missed their connecting flight to San Francisco. The airline was putting them up for the night and they just wanted to know where they were so the East Coast contingent wouldn't worry.

Fine, I'm not worried. I went back to bed to get some sleep before it was time to get up from work. The next thing I know I'm on the R train in my jammies.

I think the Pacific Street station was in my dream because every time we went out during Easter Week, my sister would drive down to that train station, park her car, and then we'd all get the train into Manhattan.

Coming back at night, we'd reverse the process and get off at Pacific Street, usually walking by the halal Chinese restaurant on Fourth Avenue. The neighborhood is getting more yuppified every day, but the clientele here was almost solidly black. It looked like the old Pacific Street that I remembered.

So there it is. Not a terribly big mystery about how this dream came to be, but I tell you, it was just real, I check the mirror carefully before going out the door every morning.

Wonder what I'll dream up next.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Quarterly Report


You call this Easter?

I'm freezing my ass off over here. What happened to Spring, rebirth, renewal? What happened to the goddamn temperature?

By now you've probably guessed that it's unseasonably cold in New York and I'm kind of pissed.

A year ago it was 67 degrees on Easter Sunday while the weather idiots are calling for highs of 45 degrees tomorrow. Come on, people, we can do better than this.

This weather blows especially hard because my brother and his family are in from San Francisco. It's been great seeing them over the last week--they're going back on Monday--but we've had to curtail a lot of the walking around that we had planned back when the weather was legitimately cold.

It's been a crazy week. I took a few days off from work and we've all been doing New York like tourists. We saw Inherit the Wind on Wednesday--a horribly cold and rainy day--with Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer.

It was great seeing two fine actors in the flesh, though they are both getting on. And the show was edited down from three hours so it felt like the Cliff Notes' version of the story. I saw another production of this play in Scranton many years ago with the playwright Jason Miller portraying Henry Drummond.

This, of course, did not compare to the Broadway version, but it was interesting in that the play was staged in the Lackawanna County Courthouse, so you were really inside a courtroom as the drama unfolded.

I'm still fond of the film version with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. That has some best acting you'll ever see on film, particularly during the climactic trial scene. And the show takes on a new meaning today in light of all this "Christian" lunatics trying to ram Creationism down on throats. Back you, freaks, back to the dark ages from whence you came.

We also saw a musical called Spring Awakening, which had have to been one of the worst productions I've ever seen. This was an adaptation of a 19th Century play for the MTV generation, so you have these kids breaking out into crappy pop tunes every time someone turned around.

I think several of the young people in the show were talented, but the songs were just awful--they had a pre-programmed boy band sound to them, as if they were the product of market research rather artistic inspiration.

I was having an out-of-body experience watching this thing. I saw all this youngsters singing and wiggling their rear-ends on the stage while my mind was in other parts of the universe, moving about like some swami passing through different dimensions.

And, as if I didn't get enough grief, I came home to watch David Letterman and found the cast of Spring Awakening was the musical guest and they performed one of this lousy songs. Oy--I give up already!

All The World's A Stage

I'm sure the response will be that I'm too old, I don't get it, but the truth I get it all too well. Crap sells and this play is selling out something fierce. Broadway deserves better and so do young theater-goers.

We also hit the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Natural History, where the exhibits on the origins of the earth and the evolution of humanity are guaranteed to give your average Creationist a stroke--Ack! reality! knowledge! No, take them away! Sorry, Bible-thumpers, but the truth really can set you free, if you let it.

My poor sister got a cold during all this running around in the freezing weather and I'm nervous, as I'm just getting over my latest bout with disease. Please, give me a break, okay? Thanks...

But the really great thing is that I'm getting to spend time with my lovely niece Victoria. She is now 12 years old and so tall I can't believe it. I can't bounce her on my knee any more or make her laugh with goofy faces. I actually have to talk to her, but it's been wonderful seeing how she's grown--even though I do miss those old goo-goo days.

As a Californian, Victoria is not into walking and constantly wants to know how far various destinations are. I explained to her that everything in New York is acouplablocks--a couple of blocks for you out-of-towners.

Tonight we ate at my Aunt Marie's home and Victoria had me laughing like a lunatic as she showed so bizarre hand-slapping game that makes Patty Cake look finger snap.

She calls it Slide and she is a very strict teacher. I kept on screwing up one of the key sequences and each time she insisted we start from square one.

When I finally got somewhere with this thing, Victoria starts singing the Hamster Dance song, which immediately had me laughing, and thus, screwing up the sequence all over again.

"Will you stop that?" I shouted between guffaws.

"No," she said, "it's helping you concentrate."

Like hell it was. But we finally got through 10 straight rounds of the Slide, and even though Victoria said I was a disgrace to the Slide community, I feel rather proud of myself. And I haven't laughed so hard in ages.

Now, it's about 1:30 AM and I'm looking over the first quarter of 2007. If my life were a corporation and I had to address the shareholders, I would be forced to admit that it has been a challenging time for Robbo Inc.

In this first quarter, my father died, my health went down the crapper, my career is stalled and I can't find a woman to give me the time of day, let alone go out with me. Plus my fiction is sputtering around in circles as I try to focus on one project and see the damn thing to its conclusion.

Still, do I give up? Hell, no. There have been some bright spots--most notably the solo performer class I'm taking--and I take comfort in the fact that it will indeed get warmer.

This really is a time for renewal, even though you feel like putting up a Santa Claus decoration instead of the Easter Bunny. Spring is here, it just doesn't know it yet.

So I must ask all my shareholders to be patient and give me, the CEO, a chance to turn the company around. I will increase the value of our company over the remainder of the year and our stock will rise.

And if doesn't, feel free to cancel my contract and put some other poor bastard in charge of this whacked company--if you find someone crazy enough to take this gig.

I'll be heading off now to pound the living crap out of the Easter bunny. See you next quarter.