Thursday, December 20, 2007

But Once A Year


I got an e-mail the other day that I think really captured the true spirit of the holidays.

"The best present on Christmas," it said, "is penis enlargement."

I couldn't put it better myself. It kind of gives a whole new meaning to the expression "stocking stuffer" doesn't it?

The e-mail came from a "Dr. Brandon Watson," who I suspect may not be a real person. I don't think he had anything to do with Sherlock Holmes' sidekick--"Watson, the game's afoot!"

(More like a foot-and-a-half, old boy....rim shot).

And I don't think this Dr. Watson is related to the guy who helped come up with the DNA model, along with Crick, but it does sound like the same field of study.

I guess this really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Maybe if one of the Christmas spirits had done this for old Ebeneezer Scrooge he wouldn't have been such a putz.

There's a Tiny Tim joke here, but I refuse to go that low--which makes me think of about six more jokes.

Oy, as Santa Claus likes to say.

So once again, the holidays are here. This will be my first one without either one of my parents, and we won't be doing anything in our house this year.

I was done in the basement last night and I saw the Christmas tree stand gathering dust in a corner.

I realized that even though putting up and decorating a Christmas tree has to be one of the most annoying, irritating, and frustrating rituals in the history of humanity, I miss not having one this year.

Even when my father was in the hospital last year we put up a tree. Now for the first time I can remember, I won't be discovering pine needles in the carpet for the next six months.

When we sell the house and I figure out where the hell I want to live, I'm going to get back to putting up a tree.

It's a pain, but there's nothing more uplifting than seeing a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Even Dr. Brandon Watson couldn't match that kind of pleasure.

On the way upstairs, I saw the red leash that once belonged to our family dog, Casey, and I found that upsetting. My mother loved Casey so much and, to be brutally, honest, I was pretty mean to that dog at times.

I could make a lot of excuses--bad health, immaturity, failing career--but it's all hot air. I was just taking my frustration out on a helpless animal.

All I can do is tell God I'm sorry and vow to be a better person. I think I'm going to stay out of the basement for a while, too.

I had another bit of a holiday dilemma at work the other day.

I was walking to my gym when I saw a legless man in a wheelchair holding out a cup for change and, just a few yards away, there were two men from the Salvation Army standing before a kettle. One of them was playing a Christmas carol on a horn.

So who gets my dollar? The legless man, so plainly in need, or the Salvation Army, which does good deeds for so many people?

It's Christmas time in the city.

I went with the Salvation Army; I guess they looked more official. I probably should have given them both a buck each and spared myself the hand-wringing and the guilt.
I'll take care of the legless man the next time I see him.

I'm behind on the holiday cards, naturally. The other day I had to walk several blocks to the main post office to pick up a package from my uncle and his wife in L.A.

The post office is on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park, which has become a Chinese neighborhood over the years.

I walked in the front door and saw a line of people snaking around the lobby and you know everyone there had some special story about their package, I mean, nobody was going to buy a book of stamp and leave, so it meant that I'd be on that line well into 2008.

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

Then I saw a special window reserved for people picking up packages--like me. I raced over there and got on line behind a Mexican fellow and his two buddies.

"Is the right line for packages?" I asked, ever the paranoid.

"Si," he said, pointing to the window with the big No. 5 on it."Cinco."

All right. Instead on the Dante's Inferno line, I'm in the express lane for the classy customers. I never went to Studio 54 during the disco debacle, but I'm sure getting in there felt a lot like this--only without the stamps.

Our postal clerk was a middle-aged Asian woman, who, like my friend on line, had a limited grasp of English.

It fascinates me how New York reels in people of such varied cultural backgrounds and forces them to live and work together.

My new friend was picking up the package. The clerk opened the window on her side, slid the package into the no man's land that exists between the post office and the customer and gestured at the fellow.

"Open window," she said, "open window."

The Mexican fellow tried to do that, but inside of sliding the window up, he was trying to pull it out.

"Open window," the clerk insisted.

He said something that I believe meant "that's what I'm trying to do, lady," and then added "puta," which will you get on the naughty list in a heartbeat if Santa heard you say it.

Luckily the clerk didn't hear him, and I doubt she would have understood anyway. The man's buddies chuckled softly and the guy looked at me to see if I understood. I smiled, he got his package, and they all left.

I got my gift, which turned out to beautiful blanket that my uncle's wife made. It is now on my bed keeping my aging butt warm on these cold winter nights.

I've been going to mass once a week at Trinity Church lately. I like the priest who conducts the service. I believe he's from Africa, though I am not certain. Whatever, he always gives a nice sermon and welcomes people of all faiths to join in.

The church is especially beautiful at this time of the year and I actually received communion for the first time in ages.

During Wednesday's sermon, the priest--I've got to get his name--was speaking to us when a cell phone went off.

There's a sign at the front door telling visitors to switch off their mobile phones, so I and a few others looked around the church wearing our "who's the idiot?" scowls.

It was the priest.

Yep, our spiritual leader had to reach under his vestments and pull out the old Blackberry right in the middle of the service.

He apologized profusely, saying he was on call, then switched the little bugger off.

"I'm mortified," he said. "Just pretend you didn't see this."

No problem, padre. I've gotten a lot of comfort and joy from your sermons, so I can easily overlook a cell phone snafu.

I came home on the subway tonight and two young men were playing an instrumental version of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on the platform. That's one of my favorite carols and they did a nice job with it.

A man was walking through my car on the 3 train tonight, loudly invoking Christmas as he asked for money. I didn't give him anything, as I found him a little too aggressive.

"God bless all the people who gave money," he said, "and God bless all the people who didn't."

That's a nice thought. As soon as he left the car, a woman got on the train and began her spiel for money. The panhandlers can come fast and furious on some nights, especially around December 25. It's a series of nightclub acts

She talked about her kids were hungry, and how ashamed she was asking us for money. I don't know if her story is true, but I gave her a handful of coins anyway.

I'm going to be running around a lot with the family this holiday season, so I wanted to make sure I got my Christmas message out.

I doubt if I'll have time for blogging until January, so I'll take the opportunity now to wish all of you out there a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. Let's make it a good one, without any fear.

And good night, Dr. Brandon Watson, wherever you are.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What About the Boy?


I feel like I should be passing out cigars.

A few weeks ago, I became the proud father of...myself.

Allow to me explain. I'll try to make sense, but I make no guarantees.

I have to take an airplane flight in the near future and I'm not handling it very well.

I'm what you might call a fearful flier, a first-class white-knuckle loon who has left his hand prints in the cushions of a squadron of passenger jets over the years.

The very thought of getting on to a plane makes my stomach turn upside down and inside out--all at the same time.

The logical side of my brain tells me all about the statistics of car crashes versus airline crashes but my neurotic side won't answer the door.

I wanted to do something positive, try and rid myself of this irrational fear that has plagued me since I took my first flight out to San Francisco nearly 30 years ago.

So I did some research. I thought about behavioral therapy with a flight simulator. I've heard that there's some kind of fearful flying program at LaGuardia Airport that involves an actual "graduation flight" to Boston and back.

Some people had simpler suggestions.

"That's what Xanax is for," a neighbor said to me.

But I settled for hypnosis, which has always fascinated me. I know all too well the mind's self-destructive power, it's ability to create disaster scenarios instantly without the slightest bit of evidence.

Hypnosis seeks to turn that around, to dismantle the mind's evil apparatus, the dark factory that belches out streams of negative smog every waking second.

All I've seen of hypnosis is the nonsense on TV, with some guy waving a watch in someone's face, intoning "You are under my power" and then people are forced to cluck like chickens or commit heinous crimes without remembering anything after they're done-like The Manchurian Candidate.

I wanted the real thing...whatever that was. But where to begin? I didn't have much time to do much research, which is definitely the wrong way of going about it, but I was running out of time.

I had taken a seminar on self-hypnosis a few years back, so I decided to call the woman who had run it. I liked her style and after a brief phone call, we agreed to meet earlier this month.

She would put me through one session, record it, and have me listen to the tape every day until flight time. The cost was more than I really wanted to pay, but my sister said that if the process worked, it would be money well spent.

I went to this place off Park Avenue South that looked like some kind of New Age clearinghouse, with several rooms reserved for...I don't really know.

I imagined people levitating in one room, holding a seance in another, and contacting UFO's in yet another.

My hypnotist arrived and we got our own room. Once inside, she put on a tape of ocean sounds, turned down the lights and started to Svengali me.



People, Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend...

This had to be one of the strangest experiences of my life.

I'm sitting in a chair with my eyes closed while, Marianna, the hypnotist, talks me to from what feels like a thousand miles away.

I think I actually might have nodded off at one point, but I recall Marianna asking me what I saw.

Well, I saw a little boy, about 7 or 8 years old. He had dirty blond hair, a red short-sleeved shirt, blue jeans with the cuffs turned up and white sneakers.

He was running around an empty airliner while cottony clouds rolled by the window against a cartoon blue sky. The kid looked like something from the Sixties, like Dennis the Menace. So who was this kid?

He was me.

I don't know how I knew this, but I did; there was no doubt. This boy was some version of me, young and innocent, happy before the nuns and adulthood got hold of him. He was the inner child I've been hearing so much about for so long, here in the flesh...more or less.

I loved this kid so much--instantly, the emotion just welled up inside me. Marianna could see it in my face.

"Something's going on," she said. "Tell me what's happening."

"It's me," I said, and tears rolling down my face.

"You love him, don't you?"

"Yes," I said, "very much."

"Do you want to give him a hug?"

"Yes."

That's what I did, up there in the cartoon, I picked up my young self, Little Rob, and hugged to my chest, kissed his cheek and told him how much I loved him.

It--he--felt so real, this was real person I was holding in my arms and I loved the hell out of this kid.

"Little Rob needs to be protected," Marianna said. "He needs you to be strong, because he doesn't understand what's going on. If you get upset, he'll get upset."

Amazing how the mind works. I have these regrets about never having children and I'm also filled with this incredible self-loathing.

Now I was faced with a version of myself that I could love unconditionally, who was innocent of all my crimes, real and imagined, who needed to be protected and nurtured.

It was beautiful.

Every day I see real parents with their real children on the subway as I go to walk. I think of how on some mornings, most mornings, I feel lousy, unhappy with place in life, sometimes I feel physically rotten.

Now imagine having to go through all that and then have to be responsible for a child as well.

Maybe the child takes your mind off your own problems and forces you to take care of someone else.

As I get older, I see how hard my parents had to work, how they were just people with hopes and dreams, good points and bad, just trying to do their best.

When the session ended I stood up, dried my eyes, and had this urge to look around for Little Rob.

"Give me a hug," Marianna said, and I gladly obliged.

I left New Age Acres feeling relax, loose, confident and a little confused about what had just happened.

This experience underscores how empty my life is and how I need to love someone for real, how I need to take care of a flesh and blood person, not an image from a trance.

Every morning I play the tape of my session with Marianna and I'll keep doing it until I take off, and then, I'll bring on the plane with me so I can listen to it as I sail over the country.

It's part of my routine, along with prayer, meditation, and the morning pages. At this rate, I'll have to get out in the middle of the night just to be on time for work.

This morning I was walking to the post office to pick up a package and I was feeling agitated about the upcoming trip, about all the things I had to do before leaving, crap I had to deal with at work.

I was getting really angry, when I saw a woman coming toward me, holding her little girl by the hand.

That's right, I thought. I'm a parent. I don't have time for this. I've got to take care of Little Rob.

I put my gloved hand out into the cold air and gave a squeeze. And I'd swear I got a little squeeze in return.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Going Nowhere


When I was in Catholic school, the nuns used to tell us about Limbo, where those souls still marked by original sin would go until Judgment Day.

The list included babies who had died before being baptized and all those people who had passed on before the Resurrection. I always pictured it as a strange, gray world where people just waited and waited.

I got my own taste of limbo today when I got stuck on the elevator.

I had come in early because my colleague is off for the next two days and I have to do his job as well as my own.

I had some feature stories to do as well and I wanted to go to the gym at lunch time.

So naturally this was a perfect time for the elevator to crap out on me. Notice that I said "on me," as I take these kinds of things very personally.

My building is being renovated and looks like 10 cents worth of God help us. I have to go around the corner to get in through the Pine Street entrance and there are temporary walls inside that have shrunk the lobby down to Lilliputian dimensions.

It's very confining and it makes me think of that weird building in "Being John Malkovich," only without the humor.

The elevator service is also incredibly slow because of all the work, apparently. I don't know what the renovations are all about, but this goddamn place better look like the Sistine Chapel when they're done or I'm going to carve my initials into someone's rear end with a Ginsu knife.

I come in from the cold, I see an open elevator door, and I make for the thing like it's the last lifeboat on the Titanic. (I wasn't in drag, though--at least not today.)

It's just and me another guy, no herd of cube rats pressing every floor and slowing me down in my vital work. Doors close, we're flying up in the air. Then we get to the 12th floor--where my companion plans to get off--when it all goes to hell.

The elevator stops dead and the button for the 15th floor, my floor, of course, goes dead. I step forward, hit the button again, and nothing happens. The doors won't open, the buttons won't light up and we're going nowhere.

I don't like heights, elevators, small spaces, basically everything that was happening at this moment. I hit the emergency button and someone answers...eventually.

"Is there a problem?" the voice coming out of the speaker asks.

"Yeah," I say, "we're stuck on 12. Can you open the doors?"

"We'll get you some help."

"Can you open the doors?"

"In just a few minutes."

Spiffy. The other guy is taking it much better than I am, surprise, surprise, and he nods to the Captivate TV screen mounted over the speaker.

"At least we have TV," he says.

Yeah, TV in an elevator. I'm sure everyone laughed when they first heard this idea, but there it is. When you really can't tear yourself away from a screen, you have one anywhere you want it.

"I thought the biggest problem today would be the weather," he adds, noting the blizzard said to be heading our way, although it didn't amount to much. I think the weatherman must work for the elevator company in his spare time.

Meanwhile, I was getting tense. I felt like I was dangling 12 stories in the air. I looked down at the emergency button, the one you hit if the cable snaps and you don't want your remains scrapped into a Dixie cup.

How the hell does that work? I ask myself. And will I be able to push it or will I too busy screaming like Fay Wray waltzing with King Kong?

I'm going on a trip very soon, a plane flight, and I am terrified of flying. I've been taking some steps to prepare myself, but I sure as hell didn't need this little episode.

Is This Thing On?

Though I guess it proves disaster can happen anywhere, even during the most routine events...like an elevator ride.

"Hello?" I say at the speaker.

"Yes?"

"What's going on?"

"We're going to have someone there in a few minutes."

"That what's you said a few minutes ago." I say. "I do have a job to go to, you know?"

I start to perspire and I'm aware that I'm getting panicky. I take out my date book where I keep my parents' mass cards, one with St. Martin and the other with St. Patrick, and I kiss them both.

Please, God, let me get out of this, I mutely pray.

I've been thinking a lot about my parents recently and it seems I've been sending them in two different directions. I miss my mother so much, even after five years, and I have all these beautiful memories that bring me to tears.

With my father, though, I seem to have nothing but anger, as I recall--and relive--all the fights and bad times with him. I don't get it, I don't see why I can't just put these bad thoughts away and get on with my life.

I turn my mother into a saint and my father into a devil. Neither one, of course, is accurate, but I feel that I was unworthy of her love and undeserving of his abuse.

"Hello?" I snap at the speaker.

"Yeah, just a few more seconds..."

Screw you, buddy, I want out now. I'm glad there's only two of us in this elevator and I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to freak out, will this man have to slap my face like they always did in the old movies.

The elevator rumbles, drops one flight to the 11th floor, and the doors open. My companion and I step out into the lobby.

"Are you guys out?" the voice asks.

"Yeah," I say. "Now how do we get our floors?"

I was not anxious to stuck again and I was hoping there was a stairwell someplace around here. But the voice from below is confused.

"Just take another elevator."

"Oh, yeah," I snap, "so we can get stuck again."

I mutter "twit" as the elevator doors close. I wonder if this guy has seen my face, will he know me as the weenie who whimpered on the 11th floor.

Another elevator arrives, we step on, and there were three people from my office, talking and joking, completely unaware of how I had just narrowly cheated death.

"We got stuck in the elevator," I say.

"Oh, yeah...?"

Yeah, and please try not to get too excited. I don't want to spoil the fascinating conversation you've got going on.

My companion, the calm guy, gets off at 12 and I wish him well. I also start to feel ashamed about how I had behaved. For Christ's sake, guy, have a little gumption will you?

I'm doing a story about kendo, the Japanese sword-fighting art, and Zen Buddhism makes up a large part of its teachings. The samurai was supposed to fight without thinking about death, thus eliminating fear. Well, Toshiro Mifune, I ain't.

I got to my desk, got to work, and eventually put the man-eating elevator out of my mind.

I've got more important things to worry about. Like getting on a plane.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

30 Minute Man


I don't know what to do with my evenings anymore.

Well, that's not really true. I've got a steamer trunk full of half-finished scripts, short stories, oh, and yeah, that novel of mine that I started before the Internet came into our lives.

Still, I feel a gap in my life.

I did my 30-minute solo performance last night and I managed somehow to survive.

This was the culmination of the Solo Performer 2 class that I took at the People's Improv Theater, better known as the Pit.

Even though I signed up for the class, I was telling myself that there was no way in hell I could stand up before an audience--by myself--and flap my gums for half-a-freaking hour.

And yet...I did. And it went pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.

I was the second feature of the night and while my colleague, Mary, did her act, I sat backstage in an old barber chair like Albert Anastasia waiting to get whacked at the Park Sheraton Hotel.

My solo show is called "Breathe With Me," something my mother used to say when she was struggling with lung disease.

I couldn't believe how quickly Mary's show seemed to go by and suddenly she was coming backstage and giving me the thumbs up.

I had chosen to open the show with a song, "What's So Good About Goodbye," by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. As I walked out into near total darkness, I heard the opening notes on the song and Smokey's fabulous voice.

"What's so good about goodbye,
All it does is make-a you cry
..."

And then the lights came up...

Grunt Work


I rehearsed this show every day, usually while I cleaned up after supper and made my lunch for the next day. I recited it when I rode the trains at night, mumbling under my breath, and fitting right in with the rest of the subway loons.

This is the only way to get the thing to work. Once you memorize it, once you know it backwards and forwards, then you can get creative with the piece.

I actually frightened my sister when she came over on Sunday, as she approached the house just when I was shouting the F-bomb at the top of my voice.

It was part of the show--honest.

I reminded myself that people were coming out to see me at an odd hour--Monday at 9:30 p.m., hardly a slamming spot--so that I would have to give it every thing I had.

Like they say in my gym's boxing class, "don't leave anything behind."

I also told myself that I was telling my story, no one else's, so I couldn't very well forget something like that.

Naturally my health failed my as we got closer to the date. On Friday I was feeling crappy; I had an upset stomach, I felt fatigued, nothing terribly serious but just enough to distract me.

I met a woman coming home on the subway Sunday night who told me she was a performer who was once part of a group called "Witches in Bikinis." We rode into Brooklyn together and she got off at one of the Park Slope stops.

"Break a leg," she said to me--for real.

On Monday morning I was a wreck. I was cursing and fuming and even though I promised myself that I'd get to work early, I couldn't seem to get out of the house. I couldn't find my shoes, I had to fill the cat dishes, and I still felt awful.

After work I went to my gym and took a nice long sauna, so I could sweat out the poisons, both physical and emotional. As I was getting dressed in the locker room, I saw that my undershirt was stained.



It was barely noticeable and I'd be wearing a shirt over it anyway, but I couldn't bear the thought of this thing on my body.

The audience wouldn't know, but I sure as hell would. So, swoosh! right into the trash bin. Bad karma be gone.

I wandered around Herald Square for a while before show time, walking in and out of Old Navy, Foot Locker and then over to the Manhattan Mall. I started to fell like a vagrant so I hiked down to the Pit.

I was way early, of course, so I sat in the sub-arctic air of the Pit's waiting area wondering if there was so way to get out of this. I was feeling a little better physically, but my nerves were getting to me.

I saw a sign in the restroom asking people not to throw paper towels in the toilet because "our plumbing is old and disagreeable."

"So am I," I muttered as I dried off my hands.

Bugging Out

Mary showed up with her husband and we did our best to comfort each other even though we were both ready to climb out the window and run screaming down Broadway.

There was a very noisy show going on before us, filled with loud voices and plenty of whoops and whistles.

As Mary was speaking to me, I saw something out of the corner of my eye moving along the wall. It was a roach and I picked a magazine from a nearby table and brushed him off the wall.

I guess I didn't feel like committing bug-icide before my show. It could be more bad karma.

"I'm listening," I told Mary as I knocked the little critter off the wall.

But he was a determined bastard, and about a minute later, there he was, back on the wall, the Little Cockroach that Could.

"Son-a-bitch!" I knocked him away again. "I give you a break and you come back for more?"

The earlier show ended and we weht in. The tech woman arrived and we set up the lights and the music. Some clown from the earlier show was backstage with his groupies and he was apparently holding some kind of improv class--bull session--mental masturbation sing-along.

What he was doing he hogging our freaking space. But, I didn't want any negative ions in the air so I kept my mouth shut. Hell, I let a roach live, didn't I?

There was about a dozen of these bums, too, which also gave me pause.

They finally left and Mary and I had the place to ourselves, until the audience showed up.

Lights...Lights...And More Lights


As I took my place on stage, I couldn't see a damn thing. The theater lights just about blinded me--something I noticed the last time I performed--and I really like that.

I could be back in my kitchen rehearsing instead of doing my piece for real. I couldn't see anyone, so I felt free to walk around, to wave my arms, and shout.

I'd never done anything like this before and I was loving it. I think the piece needs a little bit of editing and I could probably slow down, but I still had a great time.

That's the beauty of a solo piece--it really is all about you.

I wasn't somebody's best friend, a hanger-on, I wasn't in the darkness, I wasn't in someone else's shadow as one scumbag "friend" said to me back in high school. (You can see I've gotten over it, right?)

I came to the end of my piece and Smokey came back on. I've always wanted to use that song in a show and this seemed to be the best time.

I was going to go with Taps because of my father's military background, or a big band number from my parents' generation, but I settled on Motown because that's my time. And the words are telling.

What am I going to do now? Hell, if I know. My bud Hank is encouraging me to turn the story into a script and my classmates say I've got a novel in there. Either way the material is great and it's real.

I know, I was there.

So now I've got to find something other than rehearsals to fill my nights. I can finish that novel I've working on for the last 45 years, send out my short story and get my script together.

Whatever I do, it'll be the only thing I work on, and I'm going to keep working on it until I get it done. All by myself.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wait A Minute, Chester


Many years ago my mother used to sell life insurance at the old Lincoln Savings Bank in Bay Ridge.

The bank had order forms where people could leave their phone numbers so a salesperson--like my mother--could call them at a later time.

One day she told us how she picked up a card, dialed the number and asked to speak to Chester Drawers.

But this was a number for a furniture store and that's when my mom looked at the calendar, saw it was April 1, and realized she had been punked.

And then she and the woman at the end of the line burst out laughing.

I thought about this story the other day after I looked through a bureau drawer in my parents' bedroom.

I'll sleeping in that room now, in their bed, and I decided to clean out the bottom drawer to make room for some of my stuff.

But some drawers should stayed closed.

When I pulled it open, I saw that it was brimming with all my mother's summer blouses. I recognized all of them, I remember her wearing them, back when it was warm and the sun was shining and she was healthy, happy, and still with us.

I held some of her clothes in my lap and I began to cry. I was thinking of that wonderful woman who could laugh so easily at herself and I was missing her so badly.

My sister was in the house because Sunday is our clean-up day and I was actually hitting myself on the thigh to stop this crying right this instant.

Naturally, I cried even harder. My sister came into the room and gently suggested that we clean out that particular drawer another day.

"Good idea," I said as I put the clothing away.

My mother's been gone for over five years now and yet the sight of some of her clothing can still make me cry.

Is this normal? Should I be "over" my mother's death? I think part of me believes that if I ever do get over it, then I'll somehow forget my mother. That's insane, but the human mind is capable of some pretty bizarre stunts.

"I think you haven't accepted this yet," my sister said to me. And I suppose she's right.

She suggested I try a bereavement group at a church. She had done this shortly after my mother died and gotten some benefit from it.

I may try that after we fight our way clear of all the holiday madness. I work near Trinity Church and I'm very fond of the place--even though I was raised Catholic. (Sorry, your Eminence.)

I checked their web site, but I couldn't find anything like a bereavement group. I'll have to go old school on this one and call them on the telephone.

After I calmed down, we set about to cleaning the place up. A few weeks ago I found an envelope filled with stamps that must be at least 30 years old--or more. I saw some 6 cent stamps in the bunch--how long ago was that?

Several the stamps bore the image of the pope (was it Pope Paul? Jesus, some Catholic I turned out to be.)

I used to collect stamps when I was a kid. Our next door neighbor was into stamp collecting and he used to do business with an outfit called, I believe, William Deems.

They'd send you stamps and if you were late with the payment they'd send you a card with a cartoon figure of a guy being crushed in a giant vise.

"We're in a jam because you owe us money!" the card read...or something along those lines.

One time I didn't send them any money, even after the cartoon guy. So the next letter I got was image-free.

"Let's keep this between us," it started off, suggesting there would be legal hell to pay if I didn't get up the money.

I paid them off and, like a lot of things, I eventually lost interest in stamp collecting and moved on to other things.

So this envelope filled with old stamps had a nostalgic value in addition to whatever monetary worth they might carry. This was a time capsule of sorts, blessed by the Pope, no less.

I decided to put the envelope some place safe and then go online some time in the near future and determine how much they were worth.

Well, that place is so safe even I can't find it. I have no idea where I put that envelope. I thought I had put in one of the hardcover books in my bedroom, but I have to yet to find them and now I'm getting a little nervous.

I'm A Peaceful Man

Did I throw that envelope out? Did I toss away untold riches and commit a mortal sin to boot by trashing the pope's mug?

It's like David Mamet's play American Buffalo where a trio of lowlifes plan to steal rare coin. It's a great play with some awesome dialog.

Only my case is about stamps. And they haven't been stolen. And, the dialog is not quite some awesome. But other than that it's exactly the same.

What is about me and getting rich? Every time I think I have something of value, I manage to screw it up.

Years ago when I was living in Pennsylvania I bought a lottery ticket and promptly lost it. Then the state lottery office said no one had come forward to claim the humongous prize money.

I was visiting my family in Brooklyn at the time for Christmas and I got this sinking feeling. Could I be the mysterious hold out? The dummy who let millions of dollars slip right through his fingers?

I called the lottery office in Harrisburg to get some information and they told me the deadline was fast approaching, that the ticket's owner would lose this king's ransom if he didn't get his butt in gear and step forward to claim the dough.

Now I'm sure many people across the great state of Pennsylvania had lost their lottery tickets. And I'm sure they were kicking themselves like I was as they saw a fortune disappearing before their eyes.

And they have a lot of company. About $570 million in lottery prizes went unclaimed last year, according to a USA Today story.

That didn't make me feel any better, proving that misery doesn't always love company.

I never did find that ticket so I don't know if I should rightfully be in a palace on the Isle of Capri lighting Cuban cigars with 100 dollar bills.

I don't actually smoke Cuban cigars or anything else, but if I won that lottery money I would gladly start.

Years before this, we were vacationing in the Poconos--where I would later live--and we were playing some bingo game that was being sponsored by one of the local supermarkets.

You got a ticket with each purchase so we split up so we'd have more purchases and thus more tickets. We were from New York and we thought we were pretty sharp. We were going to put one over on these hayseeds.

I checked out my stuff and I left something behind--I forget what. Now my sister was right behind me in the line, but she wasn't my sister then.

Get it? We were total strangers. I had never seen that girl before in my life.

Anyway, I start to walk out and my sister--the total stranger--pipes up.

"Little boy," she said, "you forgot something."

Little boy? Who talks that way? Didn't she know were pulling a scam? We were being closely watched and we could do hard time if we got busted.

I retrieved whatever the hell I forgot and slunk out the door, and I'm not one to slunk lightly, I'll tell you that.

Later my sister thought we had come up with a winning combination that was worth $750, which was a lot more money back then.

"I think we won!" she cried.

And what does my mother shout at this moment, when she could possibly be a big winner? She doesn't yell "Thank you, God!" or "It's about time our luck changed!"

No, my dear mother jumps out of her seat and screams..."Oh, no!"

Yes, that's right. Faced with the chance of coming into a ton of money, my mother immediately refuses to accept delivery. And I'm afraid that's a family trait. It's a fear of financial success, even though financial success would make us a lot happier.

I was at a party recently being held by The Interdependence Project, a mediation and yoga facility in the East Village.

They were raffling off all sorts of good and services. I think I bought five tickets. And moments later, I had four.

The raffle was starting and I was one fry short of a Happy Meal. What if I won? What the hell would I say?

Call the Pennsylvania State Lottery Commission and they'll vouch for me. That didn't seem plausible.

The winning numbers turned out to be so far off from the ones I held in my hand that I wondered if I was in the right place.

I left a short time later, relieved that I didn't start screaming in a place that holds weekly mediation classes and discussions based on Buddhist philosophy.

I still have no clue where I put those stamps. As my dear mother would say when I lost something, "it'll turn up" and it--whatever it was--always did.

I hope that turns out to be the case with these stamps because I don't feel like pissing away another fortune. I'd rather be trampled by an American Buffalo.

I'll keep looking for that envelope. But I'm staying clearing of the bottom drawer.

That one's all yours, Chester.