Friday, February 29, 2008

Poolhall Monkeys

My favorite Twilight Zone episode is all about a game of pool.

In fact, that’s the title of the episode—“A Game of a Pool”—and it tells the story of a small time hustler who literally plays the game of his life against the ghost of the legendary Fats Brown.

The episode achieves so much with just the bare essentials: two fabulous actors in the form Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters, a great script, and a pool table.

No CGI effects, no explosions, no screeching critters bursting out of people’s guts and spraying ketchup in all directions. No space ships. Just quality.

I’ve been thinking more about that episode recently because I played pool the other night for the first time in nearly a year.

Pool is like a lot of things in my life: I tell myself this is fun, I should do this more often and then…I don’t.

On its own, pool is such a great game. It has been associated with all sorts of vile behavior, thanks, in part, to the movies--The Hustler, The Color of Money; I love those flicks--where the pool hall was depicted as the anteroom to the Ninth Circle of Hell.

And, certainly, the game can attract lowlifes. I’ve had friends tell me of unpleasant encounters in various establishments that started with a game of pool. But you strip all that away, and you still have a fun game.

Last week I got a chance to play when I joined a bunch of people from this group I joined a few years ago to celebrate one of the member’s birthdays.

I wanted to see of people I hadn’t seen in a while and, as always with this group, I get to meet some nice people for the first time. I’m unhappy over losing my job, but hiding at home in front of the TV isn’t going to help.

I forced myself to get out of the house—in spite of the snow—and take the train over to the Village to this basement saloon, which was stocked with pool tables, ping-pong tables, knock hockey, Scrabble boards, and probably a ton of other stuff I didn’t see.

The place is cool, but it's bit of a dump. The men's lavatory looked like the engine room of the Titanic just after the iceberg hit. I spotted the corpse of a water bug the size of a Shetland pony under one of the ping-pong tables. Still, it's got character.

I didn’t see anybody from my group. I walked the length of this huge place, but I didn’t catch sight of one familiar face. Did I get the date wrong? Was I in the right bar? Maybe I was in the wrong city.

I started getting antsy and I went into my retreat mode where I tell myself I should bail, go home and fire up the DVD player.

But I resisted. I forced myself to sit at the bar, order a beer, and just wait. It was just 7 pm for God’s sake. This was a party, not a track meet. People will show.

And they did. I saw one guy I knew and then a few more and then our hostess showed up and we all hit the ping pong and pool tables and started playing.

A small group of elderly African-American ladies made their way through the ever-expanding crowd. They looked a little out of place until I realized they were band, the Gospel Queens of Brooklyn. They took what passed for a stage in this place and put on terrific show.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard gospel music in a pool hall, so it was quite a treat. I could sin and be saved at the same time.

I was so happy I fought the urge to stay home and resisted the desire to run out the door because everything wasn’t falling into place in the first two seconds.

It was all so nice, all so pleasant. I held myself to just the one beer because I didn’t want to get blasted because that would just make me more depressed.

After about three or four hours, I was getting ready to go home and I was really pleased.

Rack 'Em Up!

And then I met the jerk.

The jerk, who was not part of our group, was playing at the neighboring table. He was a loud-mouth with an atrocious vest playing with equally boisterous friend. But who cares? I was going home anyway.

And then I felt something tapping at my leg. I looked and saw the jerk was going to make a shot. And—oh, my goodness—I had the nerve to be in his way and he was poking me with the pool cue.

All night long people were accommodating each other. Total strangers would stop dead in their tracks when they saw me making a shot and I would thank them for their courtesy.

But this hemorrhoid couldn’t do that. He had to give me the poke.

I stepped out his and he made his shot. But I was pissed, muttering to myself “I’d like to shove that thing up your ass.” I would have gladly gotten out of his way without being poked by like a pack mule.

Maybe I should have switched into Elephant Man mode and shrieked, “I am not an animal! I am a human being!!!” That would have fucked with his head big time.

But I didn’t. I didn't kick him in the groin, or hammer the pool cue up his rectum, or express my displeasure in any way. I just put up with his crap.

I backed down, I suppose, and I wasn’t happy about that. But I didn’t like the alternatives. Starting some kind of incident could have lead to my getting hurt—or God forbid—killed.

You don’t know how crazy people are, you don’t know if they’re carrying weapons, and, as my boxing class has taught me, you have no idea how much fighting proficiency someone has until you start fighting.

And what if I had “won” whatever encounter we might have had? I would have ruined everyone’s evening, especially the young woman’s birthday party we were there to enjoy.

The thought of a 50-year-old man getting into a brawl is rather pathetic, too. My father was always hanging out the window of his car and screaming curses at people well into his seventies. I'm amazed he never got shot.

However, I know this clown wouldn’t have tried anything like that if I were six-two and weighed 250 pounds. But that’s a statement of the obvious when dealing with pricks like these.

It seems I’m always the one being sensible, the one who keeps his temper, the one who backs down. I’m tired of it, but I don’t want to be some fire-breathing knuckle-dragger.

In this world you can get into a fight every time you walk down the street if that’s what you want to do. There will always be someone as stupid as you to accept the challenge.

Hell, Ralph Kramden got into all sorts of trouble in a pool hall when he crossed paths with the infamous Harvey. Remember Harrrvvveeyy?

I’ve always had a problem with anger, but these last few days have been bad, as I have not been contacted by any potential employers, and I can’t seem to get my personal work done.

I had this habit of replaying ugly incidents from the past to rev up my rage. I have total recall for the bad times in my life and amnesia for the good memories. We need to reverse that arrangement.

The priest at Trinity Church recently talked about how we’re often governed by what people think of us, when the reality is everything we do is between us and God.

No one saw this clown being so disrespectful to me. I wasn’t injured in any way whatsoever, so fine. Whatever happened was between me and God and when you see a dick like this guy, you keep walking. God didn't quite put it that way, but you know what I mean.

What I’m more concerned about is some of the people I’ve associated with in the past, alleged “friends” who made a point of screwing me over.

You have to end poisonous relationships with people in your life and not walk around lugging ten tons of toxic anger toward some twit with a pool cue whom you'll never see again.

Leave him in the Twilight Zone.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tracks of My Fears

"Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed."
---Michael Pritchard

Franklin Roosevelt said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but he never rode the R train.

However, I do, and I got a lesson in fear and paranoia on Thursday while taking that very train into Manhattan.

There I was reading my paper when I happened to look up just as we were pulling out of DeKalb Avenue and saw a Muslim man sitting directly across from me.

He had a full-beard, a skullcap, and was clutching a backpack in his arms the way a mother cradles a baby.

So what? The man has much right to ride on the subway as I do. Yeah, he looks different than most people I know, but not really.

My neighborhood of Bay Ridge is well on its way to becoming a Muslim community.

I see bearded men with skullcaps nearly every day when I go shopping. I usually walk by the mosque on 68th Street, where these guys are praying all the time. Why freak out when I see a Muslim on the subway?

Sure, after 9/11 I'm a little nervous about another terrorist attack, but that doesn't give me the right to engage in profiling.

And, of course, I'm well aware of the bombings on the trains in Madrid and London, but that's no reason to get all panicky, is it?

Oh, Jesus! I thought to myself. I'm gonna die!

I knew I was being ridiculous and I was ashamed of myself for thinking this way. I ordered myself to calm down and went back to reading my paper.

That's when I heard this soft whining noise and I looked over to see the Muslim gentleman rocking gently back and forth, his eyes closed, apparently deep in prayer.

All right, I'll be honest: I freaked. I was terrified that this guy was about to launch a jihad right under my nose.

I'm not proud of these feelings at all, but I should mention that when I described this scene to my sister, she said "Oh God!" and when I told my shrink, he said "Oy!" So it ain't just me.

My various personalities immediately launched into a heated debate on what I should do next.

Do I surrender to my irrational fears and get off the train at the next stop? I could just go one car up and conceivably escape any serious explosion. Better safe than sorry, right?

But it seemed so ridiculous that of all the places a terrorist could strike, it would be here on this particular train.

Of course, the cemeteries and hospitals are filled with people who thought they were protected by the odds, too.

And what if the guy sees me running away from him? He might be offended. But then if he is planning on pulling the pin, I could die of political correctness.

I try to be polite and then next thing I know the cops are scraping my remains off the Altoids ads that are lining the upper portion of the car.

Hell, I thought, I'm getting off at City Hall and that's only a few stops away.

Schmuck! another part of my brain responded. Terrorists don't check in with their victims before blowing themselves up. That's why they're terrorists and not personal trainers. Hey, why don't you just ask him to set off his bomb at Canal Street?

But the subway car was so sparsely populated at this time of the day.

The guy's only victims would be me, the loud-talking Jamaican guy and his wife, and a little old lady at the other end of the car.

That's hardly worth dying for, buddy. Go hang out at Starbucks for a little while and come back at rush hour for the infidel stampede.

As far as the praying, well, I've prayed the Rosary on the subway and no one seemed to get upset. And when I fly, I pray so much I'm basically conducting my own mass at 30,000 feet.

No one complained or called airport security while I whimpered for God to spare my life. I wasn't escorted off the plane in handcuffs like those six Muslim clerics were a few years ago.

No, I was allowed to pray in peace. So why can't this man across from me on the R train do the same thing?

My brain started to overheat and finally at Whitehall Street I decided to give into my anxiety and bolt to the next car. I folded my paper, grabbed my gym bag--hey, maybe I had a bomb?--and stood up.

And so did the Muslim man. This was his stop.

My Bad

Oh, boy. Now what? I didn't have to change cars now and if I did, this man would surely see me doing it and possibly wonder what the hell my problem was.

Of course, he might have been normal, too, and not have paid any attention to me whatsoever. I'm told there are a few normal people around; they're just kind of hard to find.

I did a little underground improv, pretending that--oops!--I had mistakenly got up for the wrong stop, and, oh gee willikers, I guess I'd better sit my ass back down.

I know it's time for the Oscars, but I'm not expecting any awards for my performance. Unless maybe it's for Best Supporting Idiot or Most Delusional on Public Transportation.

I got off at City Hall safe and sorry--sorry that I had been such a boob, sorry I had let my fear overrule my brain and lump all Muslims into Team Terrorist.

We have enough of that hatred going on already without me adding to the toxic waste. I see now that FDR really did know a thing or two, even though he never had a Metrocard.

This incident was the first in a series of problems I've been having on the subways over the last 48 hours.

On Friday, I was waiting for the D train at West 4th Street for so long that when it finally arrived, I too tired and impatient to catch a huge, honking warning sign that every subway veteran knows instantly.

If one car is packed and the next car is virtually people-free, look out. There's something very bad going on in that empty car.

But it was late and all I saw were unfilled seats just begging for customers. I didn't pick up on the foul stench until I was halfway down the car and sliding into my chair.

Oh, my God, I thought,somebody has gone to the bathroom in this car.

The odor was coming from the far end of the car and I think a homeless man had lost control of his bowels. I'm sure he was still in the car, but I didn't want to look in his direction as that might be considered rude.

Meanwhile, the stink was driving people out of the car at an alarming rate.

It was heart-warming to see New Yorkers of all races, creeds, and colors, holding their noses and marching out of this car in an orderly manner and dashing over to the next one for some olfactory relief.

I should have bailed, too, but I was tired and, more importantly, I had a seat. So I sank my head into my parka turtle-style and hoped that 36th Street would pop up real soon.

The train made an unscheduled stop at DeKalb Avenue and--salvation!--there was an R train across the tracks with its doors open.

I sprang from my seat, sprinted across the platform and bounded onto the waiting local. Oh, yes, now I could ride in comfort.

Well, not quite. One of my fellow D train passengers had crossed over with me. She was a woman in her late twenties, or early thirties, with an I-Pod welded to her ears and a seriously incorrect notion that she could sing.

She couldn't carry a note in a wheelbarrow, but that didn't stop her from hog-calling along with the songs being piped into her somewhat feeble brain.

Please understand: she wasn't humming, or singing softly like my Muslim companion from the other day; she was wailing at the top of her voice like Johnny Weissmuller on a coconut high.

My shrink tells me that instead of getting angry, you should try and look at people like these as if they are patients, individuals in need of therapy, not scorn.

For a little while that worked. I looked at this woman and tried to understand why she was so desperate for attention that she had to torture the late night subway crowd.

She must have known she was annoying, yet she took pleasure in pissing people off. Okay, so why the need to irritate? What satisfaction does that bring her?

I don't know. Her singing got louder and my patience began to fail, like the deflector shields on the Enterprise.

They can only absorb so much abuse from the Klingon battle cruisers before Scotty dials up from Engineering and says "Cap'n, they canna take no more!"

Neither could I. As the trained pulled into 36th Street, I got up and walked over to the next car.

I can sit still for imaginary terrorist attacks and godawful smells, but there's nothing like a bad singer to get me running for the exits.

Maybe I should take the bus.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Shadow Knows

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." --Mahatma Gandhi

I once saw a Dennis the Menace cartoon where our young hero is clobbering some kid right in front of a shocked minister.

"I know vengeance is the Lord's," Dennis is telling the astounded parson, "I'm just helping Him out."

I know how Dennis feels. I want to do the right thing, walk the straight and narrow, but I'd also like to lay down the smack on many of mine enemies. God's work is my own, right?

I keep talking about putting the past behind, forgetting the dirtbags who screwed me over, and getting on with my life.

But that forgetting part hasn't been working so well and I suspect that this is because I'm not really forgiving any of these mutts. (The word "mutts" is a big tip-off, isn't it?)

I was in church recently--really--when the subject of forgiveness came up during the sermon. The gospel for that day was from Matthew, where Jesus relates the Lord's Prayer, or the Our Father.

I've been saying that prayer for years, but, like a lot of people, I really haven't been following the words. Fear was the cornerstone of my Catholic school experience, not learning.

You memorized the prayers and the catechism so you wouldn't be bashed by the nuns and humiliated in front of your classmates. The actual meaning behind those words was a distant second to mind control.

The priest at last week's service stressed the line about "forgive us our trespasses, as--"--here it comes--"as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Clunk! That's where I hit the wall. I know it's vital to my personal development, that I'll be a happier person if I really can absolve this rather sizable crowd of trespassers, but, damn it, it's really tough.

I don't suppose I could get God's forgiveness and still go after the people I hate with a Louisville Slugger, could I? No, of course not; there's always a catch.

But I want to know what is the point of forgiving people who don't care about me, who don't even think about me?

They weren't worried about my feelings when they insulted me or betrayed me or embarrassed me--why they should they give a rat's hairy behind if I now forgive them for their outrageous behavior?

My shrink tells me that forgiving these bastards (my word, not his) will be good for me and I really want to believe that, I really want drop all this anger, some of which dates back decades.

But I don't quite see the connection to letting someone off the hook and feeling better about myself. I need a flow chart, a PowerPoint presentation, on how forgiving others is going to help me.

Just show me how the this thing works and I'll be doling out forgiveness like a new father passing out cigars.

Of course, if I expecting something in return for for pardoning all these putzes, then that probably lowers the spiritual value of my good deed and I'm back to square one.

You mean to tell me that virtue really is its own reward? Man, that's a letdown.

I think of these alleged "friends" I've had over the years, the kind of scumbags who are all buddy-buddy when there's no one around, but who quickly dump on you the second a third party shows up.

There was the friend in high school, who was much more popular than I was, and never failed to remind me of that fact.

"You're in my shadow," he once said to me.

I wasn't even sure what he meant by that, but I did know it hurt--a lot.

I know that this sounds like an exaggeration, but that was one of the worst things anyone ever said to me. But yet I still hung around with this prick and even now I'm ashamed to admit that.

I'm trying to allow for youth and immaturity and I have to say that still doesn't cut it. I wouldn't talk to a dog that way.

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

I have the misfortune of being around a lot of treacherous people during my life, so much so that its impossible to believe that it was a coincidence.

And as far as attracting abuse, well, I see people every day who are blind or injured or helpless in some way, and it would be very easy to stick my leg out and trip them.

But I don't do that. I see that they're hurting and if I can't help them, then I make sure to stay the hell out of their way.

I've had this need to be liked for many years--and I still have some of that in me--but I've learned very slowly that its like painting a bullseye on your chest and shouting "fire at will." You won't have to say it twice.

Also, I think the anger has become addictive, a drug like cocaine or caffeine. It gives you a momentary boost of power.

I get my "fix" by losing my temper, feeling the righteous indignation and playing the victim. If I forgive people, hell, how am I going to get high?

One of my fantasies is finding someone hurt me, returning the favor, and then ask for forgiveness myself--just to see what it feels like. But I know that's a pretty hollow wish, a child's view of the situation. Kind of like Dennis the Menace.

Mahatma Gandhi says forgiveness is a sign of strength, but part of me--a very large part of me--sees it as an act of weakness, that I'm being a wimp by not returning fire to my enemies.

Gandhi was gunned down in cold blood and the wise-ass in me wants to ask, "hey, guy, would you forgive the dude that murdered you?"

But my rational side already knows the answer. "Yes, he would."

There are people who have had their loved ones murdered and go one to forgive the killers. If that's not a sign of strength, then there is no such thing.

I found a fabulous article on forgiveness that spells out some of my concerns.

Among other things, the article points out that forgiveness doesn't mean condoning the wrongs that were done to you.

"What you are after is to find peace," the article says. Am I ever.

The article also says that you don't have to announce your intention to the entire world, that forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. Okay, I like that, too.

Clearly, the first person I have to forgive is myself because in the darker regions of my mind, I am Public Enemy No. 1.

That part of me feels unworthy of love and respect and success, so it's little wonder that I didn't stick up for myself when I was younger.

I have to forgive myself for letting people walk all over me, for not fighting back, not not telling people off.

God knows that I've done my share of hurting people. I've done some pretty awful things, stuff that I don't think I could ever forgive had it been done to me.

Yet I would hope that those folks would find it in their hearts to forgive me

So you can start a chain reaction in two directions: either you spread the love or spread the hate.

I found a definition for "forgiveness" that describes it as "the mental, and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution."

This is not surrender or wimping out. It's just "ceasing to feel" these toxic attitudes. Of course the definition goes on to say that "this subject to much philosophical critique."

Why am I not surprised?

All right...Dennis the Menace on one side, Jesus and Gandhi on the other. Do I would go with the bratty cartoon kid who never grew up or two of the greatest leaders of all time?

I'll guess I give forgiveness a try. If it's good enough for the Lord and the Mahatma, it's good enough for me.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One More Time

It seems we stood and talked like this before. We looked at each other in the same way then...

But I can't remember where or when...

Some things that happened for the first time seem to be happening again...

And so it seems that we have met before, and laughed before, and loved before...

but who knows where or when...?

Had enough? Click here...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Target: Cupid

I might have forgotten that today was Valentine's Day if I hadn't gotten on the subway this afternoon.

I had sent out the cards to the women in my life, like my aunt, my sister, my nieces--and I heard all the love songs and love-themed programs on WNYC.

Now that I'm out of work, I listen to the radio all day long.

But the day really didn't register with me until around 4 pm when I got on the train to go to Manhattan.

I saw a young couple on the Bay Ridge R station and the girl was holding on to a huge bouquet of roses.

Oh, yeah, I thought. I've got to put up with this crap today.

Notice how I take random incidents personally.

I don't want to sound bitter or anything, but how come I have to lose my job while that little winged putz Cupid gets to fly around shooting love-sick idiots in the keester and pissing off people like me?

Why doesn't somebody give that arrow-slinging monkey his walking papers? I'd love to run into his scrawny ass on the unemployment line. I'd string him up by his diaper.

I saw a few other people with flowers or stuffed animals on the train tonight, but not as many as I would have expected. Maybe relationships have taken a downturn with the economy.

All right, every year I sit in front of this keyboard and whine that I don't have girlfriend. And here I am again...only now I don't have a job either.

Meanwhile I'm reading that the New York Times plans on cutting 100 jobs in the newsroom. That means I'll have even more competition when I go out looking for work only those people will have better looking resumes.

Am I too old to work for the Sanitation Department? The pay is good and you get to work outdoors.

I was debating about going to a singles event tonight. The email invite said that not enough men signed up for the thing, that the females outnumbered the males by two to one.

I don't know. I'm signed up for a post-Valentine event tomorrow, which theoretically should take the holiday pressure off. Going to a singles event tonight seems to be a lot like trying to find a date on New Year's Eve.

The scent of desperation in the room could probably sent off the smoke alarms.

Another singles group sent out an invitation to a fellatio workshop--for women only, of course.

10 page Manual/Tips Sheet Included! , the email says, adding that you should accept no substitutes--this is the original and the best class.

These classes were started to help empower women and inspire confidence in their body and their abilities,the invitation continues, stressing that the classes "aren't just about pleasing him."

Oh, heaven forbid, why would you possibly want to please him?

He's out of work, bald, and too old to get a job with the Sanitation Department. To hell with that bastard.

Our classes are more about inspiring you and helping you tap into that raw sexiness and sensuality that all women possess.

They all do? Then the women I've been dating have been doing a great job of hiding theirs.

Please Don't Squeez-A the Bananas

Women attending actually practice techniques on props (cucumbers, vibrators, bananas, lollipops.)

So I guess I shouldn't volunteer to help with the lessons. Probably for the best; some things really shouldn't have an audience.

It does sound like a terrible waste of good food, though. Don't they know people are starving around the world?

But please, do keep the food once you're done with it. Even starving people can say no to some dishes.

And lollipops could be risky. Police in Florida are reporting that an object appearing to be a metal staple was found in a Valentine's Day lollipop at an elementary school.

This was a day after a woman reported a blade-like piece of metal in another bag of the same product.

Don't look at me, people. I haven't been to Florida in years.

There was a song called "My Boy Lollipop," who "made my heart go giddy-up." There was no mention of metal objects in that tune.

The fellatio-fest invite includes a check list of highlights (lowlights?) such as lubrication, concerns with jaw discomfort, and, my personal favorite, "alternatives to swallowing."

Well, there's not swallowing. And...what else? Is this a class in sexual techniques or a magic show?

Watch carefully, ladies and gentleman--especially, you gentlemen. I have nothing up my sleeve and nothing in my mouth--

All right, that's enough. Just because I'm bitter doesn't give me the right to be disgusting. Let's talk romance, damn it.

The CBS Evening News had a story last night about a group of men in Japan who loved their wives so much the formed the Wife-Loving Association, where they proudly declare their devotion to their spouses.

The elderly gentleman who founded the organization gave tips on how to be good to your wife. He said couples should find something they like that they can do together.

The report ended with footage of this lovely couple doing their thing--ballroom dancing. It was very sweet without being cloying. And I promise to adore my wife all the doo-dah day, just as soon as I find her.

The day is almost over and the love songs keep on coming. A little while ago, WNYC played a French rap song by someone called MC Solar. French used to be called the language of love, but after hearing this little ditty (Diddy?), I'm not so sure.

This guy sounded like he was suffering from a little jaw discomfort himself.

Now the New Sounds program is playing every imaginable variation on the old standard "I Only Have Eyes For You." It's getting freakier with every selection, but I kind of like it.

When I got off the train at 72nd Street and Broadway tonight, I saw a middle-aged man with glasses waiting on the other side of the turnstiles with a single rose in his hand.

There was something very touching about that man and his flower standing there while the rush hour crowd buzzed by him.

No phony cards, cheap teddy bears, abysmal poetry or stinking bushels of roses--just a regular looking guy with one flower in his hand looking for that special someone to emerge from all those racing bodies.

Perhaps he was waiting for his wife of many years, who was coming home after a long day at work. Or maybe he was getting back into the dating scene after a lengthy absence and was meeting somebody new tonight.

Whatever the story is and whoever that man was, I have only one thing to say: Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Memoriam

Roy Scheider
Nov. 10, 1932 to Feb. 10, 2008

I was so sad when I heard that Roy Scheider died. He was such a tremendous actor, a guy who came off as real, even if the particular film he was appearing in wasn't that good.

I remember seeing him in The French Connection, where he had the unenviable task of playing Gene Hackman's partner.

I think a lot of other actors would have been overwhelmed by Hackman's blowout performance as Popeye Doyle, but Scheider held his own.

He went on to star in several films, including Jaws, of course, All That Jazz, and Blue Thunder.

He also did a flick called The Seven-Ups, which I didn't like too much when I first saw it in the theater.

However, I saw the movie again a few years after that on television and I enjoyed it a lot more.

It's been a while, but as I recall it was a very gritty cop movie that took place in all these grungy locations in the outer boroughs--the kinds of places where you really believe that bad people would get together to do bad things.

There was a car chase in the middle of thing, which, while spectacular, had nothing really to do with the story. But this was a post-French Connection cop movie, so car chases were pretty much required in cop movies.

So we lost another talented actor. And I hate to sound like a geezer, but looking around at the current crop of stars, I have to say that I'm not impressed.

Rest in peace.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fancy Meeting You Here

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."--Humphrey Bogart

Bogey sure knew what he was talking about.

I was sitting in the office of a Wall Street-area company today waiting to go into a job interview.

I felt tired, still cold from the brutally frigid temperatures that have descended upon this city, and a little edgy. It's been a while since I've on an interview and I felt nervous.

I was filling out the application form--something I truly hate, as I have to cram my entire work history into tiny little boxes. Isn't that what resumes are for?

I had to wait for another applicant to finish her interview, which rubbed me the wrong way. I know I'm not the only person who answered the ad, but when I walk into a company, I like to pretend they're not seeing anyone but me, that I'm the only person they'd even consider hiring.

What can I say? I want to be loved. When I know someone else is ahead of me, I feel like I'm in a barber shop--I still remember those. All that was missing at this place today was the loud voice booming out, "next!"

So I'm struggling with this form when I sense a life form walking through the reception area.

Don't look, I tell myself. Don't look at the competition. It's bad karma, bad luck, bad news all around.

Then I heard her speak.

"Thank you," my sworn enemy said to the receptionist. "Take care."

Wait a minute, I said to myself. I know that voice.

In fact, I did. I looked up and realized that I knew the rest of her, too. She was one of my former co-workers, who had been laid off along with me.

And here she was, interviewing for the same job that I was trying to nail. Why, small world, isn't it? Yes, and a rather sick one sometimes, too.

I called to her and she came back and greeted me. We quickly established that, yes, indeed, we were after the same post, and it got a little awkward.

It was like the scene in Casablanca, when Humphrey Bogart first sees Ingrid Bergman in his saloon.

I was half-expecting Victor Lazlo to walk in looking for the letters of transit. Here's looking at you, kid. Only I wish I weren't.

"Under normal circumstances," I said, "I'd wish you luck. However..."

I didn't bother finishing the rest of that sentence. We said our goodbyes, promised to stay in touch, and then she left while I sit back on the couch and sank down to the ninth circle of hell.

Jesus, I know the job market is bad, but running into a former co-worker on an interview? This isn't Mayberry, for God's sake, we're not applying for a job at the local mill.

This is New York, a city of 9 million or more people, a bustling metropolis brimming with business. What the hell what was she doing here, damn it?

Round Up The Usual Candidates

I thought this kind of crap only happened in sitcoms. I was considering using this is in one of my stories or screenplays, but who in the hell would believe it? I'm not sure I do and I was there.

I can't help but do the job hunter's math: I have more experience than my former colleague, but she's younger. I know more, but she'll cost less. Something sure as hell does not compute.

I put those thoughts aside for the interview and did my best. I made sure to do the pre-and post-interview chitchat: Gosh, it's cold out there; you have a nice office, and where's the men's room?

I came home on the subway tired, even colder, and crabby as hell. I couldn't seem to get out of Rector Street and get back home.

The W train pulled into the station and just sat there, like an 8-car potted plant, while the wind from up above jumped the turnstiles and blew through the station like a harried commuter.

I stared at a poster for the Academy Awards show and thought how cool it would be to attend that thing, to win an award, like I had fantasized all these years.

Hell, I'd be happy to host thing in place of Jon Stewart. I'm a funny guy...when I have a job and it's warm...and I'm in a good mood. Maybe I should let Stewart take this one.

Finally, the damn W pulled out and an R crawled in behind it. I took a seat, read a little, napped, and then looked up at the ads running the length of the car.

There was the picture of Jerry Orbach for the New York Eyebank. Next to that, a photo of a very unhappy couple moping beneath the heading "Don't Let Impotence Ruin Your Life."

No, I thought, let marriage do that instead.

I don't know why I'm so down on marriage, since I never did take the plunge or bite the dust. Maybe I'm just being bitter by proxy.

There was an ad for a local college with the requisite photos of smiling young people energetically doing something.

I don't think I ever looked that happy when I was in college. And I certainly wasn't that active. The ad had this slogan "Start here, go anywhere."

Sure, I muttered to myself, start here and wind up freezing your ass off on the R train at 50 years old with no job.

Okay, that was harsh. But it's another world when you don't have a place to go to in the morning.

I know I'll miss this time when I finally do land a job, but right now I feel like an invader in my own neighborhood.

I walk down the streets in the morning or early afternoon hours and all I see are little old ladies out shopping, delivery trucks and local merchants sprucing up their stores.

Sometimes I see the homeless Arabic man, who hangs around one of the mosques that have cropped up in the neighborhood, or at a Middle Eastern food store on Fifth Avenue.

The other day I saw him speaking with his Styrofoam coffee shop and then waving his hand over it, as if he were blessing the thing.

Is this what's awaiting me? I ask myself.

I had a 10 am dentist appointment today and why not? It's not like I have to be at an office or anything.

On the way back I passed a local coffee shop where Mexican immigrants hang out looking for day work.

There are the kind of people we walk by without really seeing. They're always at this spot, so they've become part of the landscape.

But I did notice them today, the poor bastards, standing out in the freezing cold waiting to get the signal from somebody, anybody, to give them some work.

As I think of it now, the odds are that any work these guys did get today was probably outdoors, too. So they probably didn't get a chance to escape the bitterly cold temperatures.

Now rest for the weary; no warmth for the frozen.

I don't want to even think about what these guys have to go through, but I will the next time I find myself complaining on the R train.

Stay warm.

Blogade News

I went to the monthly Brooklyn Blogade yesterday and had a great time.

This is a group of really cool Brooklyn bloggers who get together, eat, shoot the breeze and exchange fabulous ideas.

I was tempted to stay home because I was still getting over my cold, but I didn't want to lay around the house by myself all day.

The event was hosted by Eleanor Traubman and Mike Sorgatz of Creative Times and they did a terrific job.

We met at Faan Restaurant, a really nice Asian fusion place on Smith Street.

I had forgotten that I had eaten there several times in the past and, upon seeing the name, assumed that this was an Irish place with some Celtic moniker.

You know what happens when you assume, right? Good, then I won't repeat that cheesy old chestnut.

I had left the address home--yep, yet again--and I was wandering down Smith Street, looking up at all the signs until my fellow blogger Chris of Flatbush Gardener flagged me down and pointed me in the right direction.

Now it's time to let the world about the next Blogade, which will be hosted by Joyce Hanson of Bad Girl Blog. That's her photo up there, which I took from Flatbush Gardner.

From her blog:

Time for "Show & Tell": Bloggers are encouraged to be brave and give a reading from one of their best blog posts. Or bring along your laptop and a screen and show us your best pics. Or just tell us about your best post. Please plan to limit your presentation to about five minutes so everybody can have a turn.

The event takes place on Sunday, March 9, at 12 p.m., in Kensington at the Old Brick Cafe, a little Italian/Balkan/Mediterranean restaurant on Church Avenue.

I'll be there and I'll be packing a trunk full of stuff to read. Now some of you other Brooklyn bloggers show up, too. Let's see your face at the place.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Month in Hell

Is there any way we could make February even shorter?

I have always hated this second month of the year and nothing in the 2008 version has happened to change my opinion, what with being sick and unemployed.

And there really seems to be something going around.

In the last week alone, America has been hit with tornadoes, a factory explosion, and a series of multiple fatal shootings that must have the staunchest NRA members diving under their couches--until it's safe to come out, of course.

Just google "shooting" and then stand back as a tidal wave of news stories, blog postings and other such material will burst out of your monitor.

Here are some of the week's greatest should pardon the expression:

Los Angles, CA: a man killed his father, two brothers and a highly respected police officer before being killed by an LAPD sniper.

Kirkwood, MO:a gunman invades city hall and shoots five city officials dead and injures two others, including the mayor. The killer--nicked named "Cookie"--left a note saying "the truth will win in the end."

Portsmouth, OH:a teacher’s estranged husband charged into her classroom firing a gun, then stabbing her. He later killed himself while the teacher survived.

Baton Rouge, LA: a 23-year-old woman shot and killed two other women in a classroom at the Louisiana Technical College and then turned the .357 revolver on herself.

I'm sure I'm leaving out many others, but you get the point. And if you do get the point, please explain it to me, because all I see is pointless violence.

I see photo after photo of people sobbing and cops aiming their guns and those grainy portraits that tell you the person in the picture has just been killed.

It seems like there are a lot of people out there with no self-control and easy access to firearms. Does this combination make sense to you?

I'm thinking of how depressed and angry I've been during the last week, how even the smallest things have been setting me off, and it makes me a little concerned.

I'm not going on any shooting sprees, but I'm having a lot of trouble holding my temper. The physical health is a large part of the problem.

It sounds like I'm making excuses, which I am, of course, but when you're not well, the whole world seems to be ganging up on you.

The gun nuts are saying that firearms are not the problem, that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Yes, I've often seen guns leap up in the air and start firing into crowds. Those damn guns--they should learn to behave.

Crowded Crosshairs

Firearms fanatics say we should have even more guns, so that when one person starts shooting, we can all turn around and shoot him.

Sounds great. But why stop with adults? Let's give guns to teen-agers, toddlers, mentally-challenged people, chimpanzees, anyone and anything that can pick up a pistol, feel free to do so--and start shooting.

We'll have people cart away the bodies and clean up the mess in time for the next slaughter, though at this rate they'll have to move pretty quickly.

Oh, and look, another addition to the hit parade:

Baghdad, Iraq: Five American soldiers were killed in roadside bombings in Iraq on Friday. But, that's okay, the surge is working, can't you tell?

What about that bin Laden guy and the weapons of mass destruction? Oh, that's right, you're not supposed to ask those questions, unless you want to be accused of being in bed with the terrorists.

And, just to show the mayhem isn't happening just in the U.S., here's this item:

Islamabad, Pakistan: A suicide bomber blasted a political gathering Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 25 people.

We also had a big mafia roundup here in New York this week and it brings back fond memories of the days when we seemed to have this mass mob arrests every other week.

Some people followed--and continue to follow--the comings and goings of gangsters the way other people track Britney Spears and her ilk.

I made the mistake of looking at the comments section of the Daily News after reading their mob arrest story. God, I hate when I do that. It's a such waste of time and invariably I'll read something that will piss me off. (Hide the guns.)

I keep saying that I don't care what these yin-yangs think. And they I'll read the next stupid comment.

The whole comments concept infuriates me. Obviously, I'm prejudiced being a former newspaper reporter, but it's so annoying to have some dimwit click on to your story and add some idiotic, ill-formed, often inflammatory statement to your work. It's like cyber-graffiti.

You got something to say, write a letter. It won't kill you to pick up a pen. (Whereas picking up a gun is a whole other matter.)

Just look at what was tagged on to the mob story:

Why isn't the GOVT in Bay Ridge tracking potential terrorists. They were literally dancing in the streets on 9/11?

I live in Bay Ridge and I didn't see anyone dancing in the streets on 9/11. But then I was across the street from the Trade Center when the planes hit and it took me hours to get home. But I doubt anyone was dancing in the streets.

Let's not forget the FBI Hit Marilyn Monroe and agent Delvecchio killed a whole bunch of people in Brooklyn.
Marilyn Monroe? Was she a terrorist?

F.B.I. - Forever Bothering Italians I like this one, even though I disagree with it and even though I'm half-Italian.

Although I dislike these comments, that hasn't prevented me from joining the digital chorus. After Mitt Romney threw in the towel, thank God, I posted a comment on one of the liberal web sites asking if Romney's five sons were now going to join the army.

You see, when someone asked Mitt, a big war supporter, why his sons weren't over in Iraq, Romney had the gall to actually say that his sons were helping America by working on pop's presidential campaign.

He later back off--flip flopped?--from this asinine assertion, but I still wanted to ask the question. And I still want to see his sons in Iraq.

Now Mitt is saying he's quitting the race for the good of America, which is hard to argue with. Maybe he can leave America for the good of America, and take his quintet of yellow-bellied Mitt-wits with him.

But Mitt meant (Mitt meant? What the hell kind of name is Mitt anyway?)that he was throwing his campaign under the bus to keep the terrorist-loving Democrats from taking over and trying to take our soldiers away from all those roadside bombs.

The nerve of those Democrats. I wonder how Mitt feels about gun control, the sort of thing that might cut down on the number of mass shootings in America the Beautiful.

Nah, no gun control for Mitt and his brethren. People have a right to kill people in America.

Is it March yet?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

No Time for Losers

A guy came out of my neighbor's house a little while ago with a bottle of beer in his hand and stood in the middle of the street.

"Giants!" he shouted to the dark houses. "Whooo!"

And who could argue with that?

The New York Giants, who actually play in New Jersey, had just beaten the heavily favored New England Patriots in a nail-biter of a game that went down to the last 10 seconds.

Just a few minutes ago, a car came down the block with its horn blaring, the occupants clearly celebrating a Giants' victory. I guess tomorrow we'll see stories in the newspaper about rowdy fans being arrested for celebrating a little too much.

Outside of mixed martial arts, I'm not much of a sports fan, but I always cheer for the New York teams, so I'm feeling pretty good--even though I'm sick as a dog with a godawful cold.

I hated football when I was growing up. It seemed that's all the kids at school would talk about, while I preferred to talk about books and movies. Guess I was a weird kid, but I just never got the appeal of football...or baseball...or hockey.

On Sundays during football season my father used to watch games all day, one right after the other. Often he'd bellow at the screen at some botched play, so I spent a lot time in my room.

In high school, the football players all seemed to be loud-mouthed bullies who barreled through the school as if they owned the place.

I remember when the Jets won the Superbowl all those years ago, the famous game where Broadway Joe Namath predicted a Jets' victory with the immortal line "I guarantee it."

My brothers and I went to Jets game one time. We had fantastic seats with a great view of the field and I sat next to this very angry man who was raging at the team's lousy performance that day. (They went on to lose.)

"C'mon, Namath, you $400,000 lemon!" he shouted.

I should pause here to explain to our younger readers that this was back in the days when $400,000 was considered to be a lot of money.

This year the Superbowl was a real contest, not some first quarter blowout that made the commercials the most interesting aspect of the game.

And speaking of commercials, was it me, or did they really bite the big one this year?

I think I saw one or two that made me smile and that was it. Good thing the game was so exciting.

Coca-Cola had an ad featuring two floats from the Macy's parade--Underdog and Stewie from Family Guy--breaking free and fighting over a Coke bottle float.

I wish I could have laughed, but the ad reminded me of a real incident at the Macy's parade about 11 years ago where a float smashed into a streetlight, which fell on and seriously injured a woman in the crowd. I'm curious if I'm the only person who made that connection.

Last year I spent Superbowl Sunday alone at a Moroccan restaurant in my neighborhood, after being stood up by a woman whose name, face, and life story escape me for the moment.

I was feeling a little down that day, but at least I had a job back then, unlike now. And I didn't have a cold either.

I've been under a bit of stress lately and then I got caught in a downpour on Friday night when I went to see the author Russell Banks speak at the Brooklyn Public Library.

I got drenched in the short walk from the train station to the library and wound up throwing out my umbrella.

Banks gave a good talk, but I didn't interact with anyone else in the room, so I essentially spent the evening alone.

I had been avoiding socializing because I lost my job, but yesterday I threw that aside and went to a dim sum brunch in Chinatown that was being hosted by one of my Meetup groups. (I belong to so many of these damn things...)

I had a great time, met some really fine people, and ate all sorts of weird and delicious foods.

The brunch was in honor of the Chinese New Year, which is just around the corner.

This is the Year of the Rat, which sounds a little creepy to a New Yorker, but, according to a web site I just checked, "the Eastern rat is revered for its quick wits and its ability to accrue and hold on to items of value."

The site said "rats are considered a symbol of good luck and wealth in both China and Japan." All well and good, but if I see one in my basement, his luck is going to run out very quickly.

As I spoke with people around the table, I tried to avoid asking the obvious question--what do you do?--because I didn't want to get into what I wasn't doing, which was working.

That's pretty hard to do when you first meet someone, since the big questions when usually are where do you live, where are you from, and what do you in do.

However, a young woman at our table, who currently lives in Chelsea, said she was thinking of moving to my hometown in Brooklyn because...she was being laid off and couldn't afford Manhattan rents.

Immediately I relaxed. I wasn't the only unemployed person in the room. I ate just about anything the waitress put in front of me and the whole thing only cost 15 bucks.

The people at our table were really nice, but with these groups you never know if you'll seem them again. Sometimes instead of making new friends, you wind up meeting agreeable strangers. Still, it was better than sitting at home.

The cold caught up with me when I got home on Saturday and I've been pretty much housebound ever since. I had wanted to check out a Superbowl party some place in the neighborhood, but all this sneezing is really killing my festive mood.

Still, I didn't get sick while vacationing in Hawaii, like my poor aunt did, so I'm thankful for that much.

This year has certainly gotten off to a rough start--kind of like the Giants this season.

Now I just have to get around the misery, head straight for the end zone, and score big in the Year of the Rat.

Here's hoping...whoo!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Light in the Window

I was working on the computer the other night when someone knocked on my side door.

It was dark, I'm alone here in this big old house and people who have legitimate business normally come to the front door in the day time instead of sneaking up the alley after sundown.

I grew up on a steady diet of horror movies and these are all the right elements for a gruesome killing.

But it was only my next door neighbor stopping by to tell me there was a light on in our upstairs apartment.

The apartment has been empty for nearly a year after the last tenants skipped out on us and we had a work crew go up there last week to clean out all of their crap.

The debris included toys, clothes, fireworks and what looked like crack spoons--no wonder they couldn't pay the rent.

The crew did a great job of getting the junk together and hauling most of it away. However, they apparently left the kitchen light on and it had been burning bright for the last two days.

I thanked my neighbor and went upstairs to throw the switch. The apartment is eerily empty now, a preview of what the downstairs rooms will look like when we finally sell our house. There is no soul, no personality to the place. It's just space.

I took a look around. I grew up here, until we moved downstairs when I was six or seven years old.

One of my earliest memories of living in that apartment was falling down those stairs, hitting my head over and over.

I don't know I didn't break my neck, but I guess God had other plans for me. Now if I just figure out what those plans are...

My brothers and I crammed into one bedroom and my sister was down the hall in what was once called the baby room because it had a glass window where you could keep an eye on the newborns.

My sister tells me I put on quite a show when I was in the baby room, putting my butt up in the air while I slept. They all used to watch me while I performed this stunt, she said.

I remember when we moved downstairs to live with my grandmother. It was a big deal for me then, this relocation. And the sad truth is I haven't moved much since then.

It's hard to believe so much time has gone by, that my parents are gone, that I'm a middle-aged man who still hasn't found a real career or put down any serious roots.

I cling to this house, even though I know most of the things that made it special are gone.

The whole building seems incredibly empty and that has become even more evident now that I'm out of work. I'm here all day--instead of just flopping here at night--and I see just how barren the place is, just how barren my life is.

The first few days of unemployment were a bit of a shock. I've never been close to loving, or even liking a job, but I have to say it feels strange not showing up at an office during the week.

I search the Internet for to the gym...listen to NPR...and wonder what the hell I'm going to do with myself. I feel like ghost in this house.

I had just heard someone on the radio talk about "your back to work Monday." What work are you talking about, lady?

My whole routine is thrown out of whack. I see how much I had when I was working, how the job, the gym and Trinity Church where all within a short distance of each other. Career, body and soul, all connected in this narrow triangle on Wall Street.

I went to church on Tuesday and then to the gym. I walked by my newly old building and I didn't feel sad or upset. All I miss is the paycheck and the benefits.

Hire and Hire

And I'm finding some intriguing items on Craigslist. Reality shows are becoming the hot ticket as the writers' strike drags on and here are some of the latest possibilities:

Can’t seem to lose that last fifteen pounds? Nat’l TV show wants you!

Why? So you can perform liposuction on live TV?


I hadn't thought about it, but if I get bored enough, who knows?

Got a stinky body part? Nat’l TV show wants you!

Now, that's entertainment!

Have you ever gotten revenge on your employer? If so, please send us your revenge story and your picture as soon as possible.

So we can forward them on to the police.

Lead Actor for Sci-fi web series.

I'm actually interested in this one.

They're looking for a male, "30's, dark looks, mysterious,athletic" who will portray "a hit man who has been asked to investigate a series of supernatural happenings that portend doom for the world."

The character is "a troubled soul who wants to reconcile his dark past with the promise of salvation."

Hell, I can do that. While I'm not in my 30's, I am athletic and dark--especially my past--and there isn't a more troubled soul in heaven, hell or purgatory.

And since its a web series, they can fake everything else with CGI or PHD or DOA or whatever that crap is. After that live action cartoon 300 what does age, looks, or talent matter? Just get some geek to start pressing buttons.

Are You Fascinating?

I'd like to think so, but I'm not sure in what way.

This production company is looking for "for smart, exemplary characters that are interested in developing a television show around their lives and careers."

Now here's a nice twist--I don't have a career.

If you are an expert in a fascinating line of work , the ad continues, and believe you have the charisma to carry your own television series, we're interested in hearing from you.

I'm an expert in trying to find a line of work and if by "charisma" you mean "neurotic" then I'm your boy.

Of course, if these leads don't work out, I can always answer the ad I saw on the subway this rainy night.

It was for parking attendants in Manhattan, and it promised plenty of overtime and room for advancement, and you don't even need experience. It's a shame I forgot to take down the number.

I hate staying in the house and looking at TV, but I don't feel very sociable. You meet up with people and sooner or later the subject of work comes up and I'll to say, oh, yeah, I'm out of work.

I know I have a lot of company as the economy continues to tank, but that's not helping any. Misery doesn't love company; misery loves a paycheck.

I was reading a biography of Gene Hackman, one of my favorite actors, the other day, and it described how one of his worst memories while trying to get into the business was working as a doorman in New York.

He was opening the door for some former Marine officers he knew and one said to him "Hackman, you're a sorry son of a bitch."

That's one of my many fears, that some scumbag "friend" from my past will show up in my life now and say "you're still in Brooklyn? You're still in your family's house?"

Yeah, I guess I'm a sorry son-of-a-bitch with stinky body parts who can't seem to lose the last 15 pounds. Maybe I should run away and get hitched in Vegas, troubled soul that I am.

The work crew got rid of almost everything in the upstairs apartment, but there is something up there that squeaks on a semi-regular basis.

I don't know what it is--perhaps a smoke alarm with a failing battery, or maybe some kind of demon bat from another dimension. I'm not sure.

I walked around the back rooms looking for the squeak's source, but I couldn't find it, even though I got incredibly close at one point. Maybe the new owners will have to worry about it.

I look one last look around the empty place. Nearly all signs of humanity are gone and it kills me to think of new people here. I know nothing lasts forever, but the pain of loss can sure last a long time.

I can't let my current situation defeat me. I'll find a job and I'll find a new place to live.

I will not live in the past, and even though I switched off the light upstairs, I will not live in darkness.