Friday, March 28, 2008

Dress Me, Father

I've been wearing suits a lot more often now that I'm back on the job interview circuit.

I don’t have that many actually, but I use them in rotation and I haven’t worn suits with such regularity since my father died last year.

The other day I dug out my old navy blue Brooks Brothers and prepared to do two, yes, two, job interviews in one day. I’m such a tramp.

I don’t want to think about how old this suit is. I got it years ago, I mean years ago, with my father.

His tastes were on the conservative side, but I trusted his judgment and he always seemed to know which tie went best with what shirt, something that still pretty much eludes me to this day.

Every time I had a job interview he’d look up and say, “are you going to wear your Brooks?”

I think about my father a lot when I get ready for job interviews. No matter how old I was, how mature I believed myself to be, I’d always go to him and ask “how do I look?”

He’d critique my appearance, checked to see that the collar was down in the back, no lint on the pants, no loose threads. It feels strange putting on one of my suits without checking with him before I go out the door.

I complained bitterly over the years about my father trying to control my life, about taking stuff from my room, sticking his nose into my personal business, but in this one aspect I always welcomed and actually sought his opinion.

Even when the Alzheimer’s had taken so much away from him, he was still able to look me over and give me an approving nod. It felt good, even though I suspected he wasn't really aware of what was going on.

Now that he’s not around, it’s up to me to judge my own appearance. And that makes me feel a little nervous and a bit lonely, actually.

I remember buying clothes in Century one time and in desperation, I turned to a woman next to me and asked her opinion of a shirt I was thinking of buying.

She seemed a bit surprised at first, but she gave me a few tips before leaving the store.

The Brooks Brothers suit still fits, though it’s a little worn in patches-—kind of like me.

As I was adjusting the jacket, I felt something on the inside pocket, a box of some kind and I assumed it was throat lozenges or chewing gum.

It turned out to be a set of Rosary beads I had gotten about three or four years ago when I renewed my interest in religion.

I just have to say here that Christianity is a lot more enjoyable now that I don’t live in fear of some psychotic in a nun’s habit bashing my face in or an incredibly short-tempered Supreme Being smiting my keester to cinders if I slip up on the Hail Mary.

I had gotten this set of beads at a store in the neighborhood. They come in a round container with a picture of small boy receiving Communion from Jesus himself. You’d never know Catholic school was so horrible by looking at this image.

I had gone to the rectory of Our Lady of Angels Church—I was a grammar school student there—and asked for a priest to bless them for me.

Things have changed quite a bit there apparently. Instead of an old Irishman or Italian, this priest was a young South Asian man. Old school is not so old anymore, I suppose.

It was comforting watching the priest take the beads in both hands and give the blessing. My Rosary beads were now sufficiently charged, and I was ready to start praying.

And then I lost them.

I had absolutely no idea where I had left. I called my gym, I looked all through the house, I went through all my drawers—nothing.

In the interim, my sister had gone to Italy and bought a beautiful set of Rosary beads, which had been blessed by the Pope himself, and these I vowed would never leave the house.

But the missing beads bothered me. Maybe I did need a homicidal nun hanging over me to make sure I didn’t lose such sacred items.

I could just imagine what would have happened if I had lost my Rosary beads back in my grammar school days.

It would have been a replay of the Spanish Inquisition in front a class full of terrified fifth graders.

Come Go With Me

On the day I had the two interviews, I wrote "Hell Day" down in my pocket calendar, which should give you an idea about how I felt about the whole thing.

Most of Hell Day was spent on the R train, going uptown and downtown. And nearly every time I got on the train, I was serenaded by the same group of older African-American men seeing the old tune “Come Go With Me.”


I always give these guys money, since I don’t consider this pan-handling—it’s work and they’re very entertaining.

They lift my spirits, especially when I’m unemployed and going through job interviews the way a hooker goes through sailors during Fleet Week.

You can hear some talented musicians as you make your way underground. Of course there was a lady at Atlantic Avenue last night who was kind of pushing it though.

Her act consisted of a beat box and a slide trombone. I didn't want to stare, but I was so sorely tempted to ask, "lady, are you for real or am I hallucinating?"

I didn't get her name, but I don't expect to see her selling out Madison Square Garden any time soon.

Now it never fails that when I'm going for interview I'll spot some imperfection in my appearance--when I’m on the train and powerless to do anything about it.

Whether it’s a wrinkle in the pants, a tiny stain on my shirt or tie, or a smudge on my otherwise perfectly shined shoes, I’ll find it and then I’ll worry about it, convinced my prospective employer will spot the fashion faux pas and drop kick me into the freight elevator.

As for the interviews themselves, well, what can you say? I hate them with a passion, I feel like an actor in a very bad movie, grinding out this ridiculous dialog that no human being would ever say, let own believe.

I actually had a woman ask me during a recent interview, “so, do you think you’d like to do this kind of work?”

Like? What are you high? I’m 50 years old and out of work, moron, what does like have to do with it?

Do you like what you’re doing? Does anyone in this stainless steel hellhole you call an office actually like their job?

I got a great idea: let’s go to each cubicle and ask every one of these Post It Note zombies if they like what they’re doing, if their suck-ass jobs fulfill all their dreams and that they’re all go merrily off to their graves knowing they’ve found the true meaning of happiness.

Just be sure to have a healthy supply of stomach distress bags handy.

I didn’t get that job, by the way. Can’t imagine why…

Then I had another situation where the interviewer forgot I was coming. She was extremely apologetic and I know what we all make mistakes, but I have to say it didn’t do much for my confidence.

Forgetting to take the garbage is one thing. Forgetting a human being in the lobby wearing his best suit is quite another.

If I had a job I would have stormed out and never returned, but you’re awfully forgiving when you’re searching for a steady paycheck so the first words out of my mouth were “do you want me to come back?”

Obviously if I had made that mistake, they would have shredded my resume and moved on to the next candidate.

So—big surprise—the people who make the rules are allowed to break them. When you reach a certain age, you really can’t be shocked by this kind of thing.

I’ve been taking tests, too, writing bogus stories to show I know something about journalism. I hate these damn things--I did this crap in high school--but there’s little I can do about that. And my briefcase is filling up with all these temporary building passes that have become a fixture in post-9/11 America.

Hell day ended with me back on the R train and another group of older African-American men trooping through the car singing a gospel tune.

I thought of joining them, as this line of work looked far more entertaining than any of the jobs I applied for. It’s a shame I can’t sing and I have absolutely no sense of rhythm.

The singers left and then a homeless man--literally dressed in rags--walked through the car. He was huge, filthy, and mumbling to himself. Most of the people in the car were frightened of him—myself included—and I don’t think he got a dime.

I always get nervous when I’m out of work and I see homeless people. This is a very unforgiving city in an extremely hostile world and sometimes you feel you’re just few clicks from the guy living in the doorstep.

So I haven’t found a job yet, but at least I found my Rosary beads.

And I discovered a fond memory of my father, at a time when my heart still holds a lot of anger toward him. I heard a lot of nice music, so I was feeling pretty good.

How do I look?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Four Thousand Lives

From the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, pushing the overall American death toll in the five-year war to at least 4,000...

Happy Easter, President Bush. And now we march on toward 5,000...

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of deaths construction

In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds, oh lord yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

--"War Pigs" by Black Sabbath

Shun Lee and the Socks of Doom

This is Easter Sunday, the day Christians all over the world celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.

I just got home from dinner with my family at a local restaurant and I'm looking at the big story in today's Daily News.

Is it something related to the war, the economy, or the upcoming presidential election?

Perhaps a story about this most sacred holiday for so many millions of people?

No, this is much more important to the lives of millions of New Yorkers.

The big story today is that former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, who was forced to resigned after being caught using the services of an expensive call girl ring, kept his socks on while doing the hokey-pokey with the hotsy totsy.

Yep, Spitzy was a sock boy who wore his hose when he was with the hos. And not only did the News tell us this riveting story, they also posted an online poll asking readers if they thought it was okay to leave their socks on during the horizontal tango or not.

I feel very strongly about this issue and voted no.

Socks have no place in the sack, but the poll was running pretty close as of a little while ago, with 48% of those asked saying it was all right to wear socks during sex, while 52% were anti-sockers.

The article says a sleaze bag Republican operative--redundant, no?--ratted out Spitzer to the FBI saying that, according to his source, the Sheriff of Wall Street "did not remove his midcalf-length black socks during the sex act."

I guess Easter Sunday is a slow news day and Elliot Spitzer's misdeeds still can grab a few headlines.

But this is really stretching the elastic on the great sock of information; it's like trying to squeeze leftovers out of a turkey a week after Thanksgiving.

You can make sandwiches and soup, but sooner or later you just have to toss the carcass out. And I think we've reached that point with Spitzer and his socks.

My brother in California tells me that porn stars used to wear socks in films to get around no nudity statutes, as in, hey, they're not naked; they're wearing socks.

The expression "knock your socks off" goes back to skin flicks, he said. I learn so much from this guy.

There was an old Superman episode where this little fellow from another planet possesses the power to freeze people in their tracks with his index finger. He does this in a clothing store while a local gangster is in the place looking to buy socks.

After witnessing the pint-sized alien's amazing ability, the hoodlum dismisses the idea of footwear.

"This is bigger than socks!" he declares and storms out to do some kind of evil, prompting Superman to stomp his ass in the name of truth, justice and the American way of socks.

Hmm, I wonder if Superman wore his socks while taking Lois Lane up, up, and away. And what about his cape?

I like fancy socks myself, but those are the ones that always get lost in the wash. I often get the mass-produced, standard issue black socks just to avoid this grief, but
occasionally I enjoy a little style.

I went out with a woman years ago who once kept her socks on during an intimate episode. When I asked her about this later, she said her feet were cold.

I'm assuming she meant "cold feet" in the sense that her feet were actually cold, as opposed to having cold feet toward me. But it's hard to say now.

Still, it seemed odd since she wasn't wearing anything else at the time. Why not wear a parka to bed if you're so damn cold?

I almost lost my socks--and my shirt--last night when I went out for dinner with my best bud Hank.

We went to this place called the Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street, which seemed like a nice place, except that it cost a small fortune (cookie) to eat there.

I got suspicious when I saw they had about 500 waiters, all of them wearing spiffy uniforms like stewards on an ocean liner.

Then I opened the menu and ran into an iceberg of mind-numbing prices, like 30 bucks for an entree. I felt a shiver run right down to my socks.

Now we should have walked the hell out of there, embarrassment be damned. If they weren't embarrassed by the prices, then we didn't have to be embarrassed by refusing to pay them.

Off The Tracks

My family did that years ago while on vacation in Vermont when we stopped in a restaurant and saw that the prices were so steep we would have ended the trip right then and there.

The place was called "Track Four" as I recall, and I remember my mother snarling at brother as he reached for some bread sticks on our table.

"Don't eat anything!" she snapped.

She faked an illness and we ran out of there like the Dillinger Gang fleeing a bank job.

We joked about it for years, with one of us wailing in a train station announcer's voice, "Lenihans leaving on Track Four, alllll aboard!"

But what the hell? We didn't have the money and we had no absolutely no intention of coming back to that place.

Hank and I stuck it out at Shun Lee's joint, though. Luckily neither one of us was particularly hungry, so we made a meal out of some appetizers, made for the door, and went to the Museum of Modern Art to catch a showing of the Preston Sturges film Unfaithfully Yours.

It was a good movie, not of one of his best, but I'm glad I finally got to see it. However, there was this nutzoid woman sitting in front of us who kept on turning around and giving the entire audience the annoyed movie fan stink-eye every time people laughed.

I know I'm a freak about noisy idiots in theaters, and just about everywhere else, for that matter, but this woman was really overdoing it.

She was like a matron in the old Fortway Theater, except she didn't have a flashlight. This is a comedy, sweetheart, people are supposed to be laughing their socks off.

This woman should have been on the N train coming home with me last night; she would have turned her head so much it would come clean off her shoulders.

I was sitting there playing my favorite subway game of "Name That Stench" when I heard some blowhard talking loudly to impress his crew of idiot friends. He looked like out-of-towner and I couldn't wait for him to get out of my town, not to mention my train.

Now at 49th Street, this rather dignified-looking old gentleman got on the train and sat next to me. He was holding a Playbill from "The Homecoming," apparently having just enjoyed a night at theater.

The loudmouth and his friends got off at Times Square, but then that dignified-looking old gentleman suddenly got his socks all twisted at some construction workers who were during repair work on the express tracks.

"Don't work on the fucking express tracks!" he erupted. "It's a waste of fucking time. The problem with you fucking people is you believe your own fucking propaganda!"

Okay, where do I begin on this one? I didn't know who he was talking to, what he was talking about, and what the fuck his problem was.

Don't repair the express tracks? Why, so we can all go loco like you?

And whose propaganda are we believing--assuming it's us you're talking about and not some invisible pint-sized alien floating around your head and pointing his finger at your brain?

I had mistakenly thought this guy was a class act--based mostly on his appearance. He goes to the theater, for God's sake. I thought a Playbill was some kind of international sign of sanity.

He said "excuse me" when he brushed against my leg as he took his seat. He had to be gentleman.

Did the sight of the construction workers set him off? He didn't speak loudly enough for them to hear him, of course. But I wonder if he had behaved this way in the theater. Perhaps he was perfectly normal and well-adjusted when something in the play made him snap.

Fucking Pinter and his fucking pauses! What a fucking idiot!

I buried my face deeper into my book and hoped my fellow passenger would soon calm down. He did, or at least with the cursing, but then he started coughing. The guy was a real symphony, now that I think of it. Maybe he's a frustrated actor.

As a certified hypochondriac, I had to move, and, spotting an empty corner seat, I left my foul-mouther theater-goer for a quieter, and hopefully, less germ-ridden location.

And I kept my socks on the whole time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

G.I. 4000

Somewhere in Iraq, there is a U.S. soldier who will shortly become No. 4,000.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the disaster in Iraq, and, tragically, this milestone will soon be followed by another dreadful event: the death of the 4,000th American soldier.

While so many people obsess about Client Nine, Elliot Spitzer’s secret sexual identity, I wonder about G.I. 4000.

What is he or she like—bookish or a rabid sports fan? Shy and quiet or outgoing and boisterous?

Does he or she have pets—dogs, cats, or fish? Where is this person from—small town or big city? And did this man or woman come from a big family or was he or she an only child?

Was this soldier a high school hero or one of the geeks who sat in the back row and prayed not to to be seen?

Is this individual a parent whose children who will never see their mother or father again?

Did he or she believe in “the mission,” as war supporters call this fiasco, or did this soldier get pulled into this quagmire due to a National Guard commitment?

Funny, George Bush was in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, but he didn't do any fighting. Kind of interesting, isn't it?

Perhaps G.I. 4000 has been over there for a while, made a couple of tours, and is hoping to leave that place alive and in one piece. He or she has seen friends and comrades killed and mangled and wants to get the hell out.

Or maybe this soldier is a new arrival, who won't have a chance to learn much before it's all over.

I wonder what G.I. 4000 dreamed of being as a child. What dreams does he or she have for the future, dreams that will never come true?

And how will this soldier die--roadside bomb, suicide attack, "small arms fire," as the Pentagon likes to say?

This is particularly upsetting given news that only 28% of adults are able to say that nearly 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war.

There’s a town in Connecticut called Ashford. It was settled in 1714 and it is home to the largest Boy Scout camp in the state.

As of 2000, the town’s population was 4,098, so if you look at impact of this war, you can imagine a small town like Ashford being wiped right off the map--for no reason whatsoever.

I wonder if G.I. 4000 comes from a town like this.

The really tragic thing is that while the death of the 4,000th U.S. soldier will be a milestone, it will be nothing like an ending.

We'll just start the count again from 4001, 4002, get the idea. Pretty soon we'll be talking about G.I. 5000.

People who were against this war from day one, who knew Bush and Cheney were lying to us, have been accused of rooting for terrorists, of cheering the deaths of American soldiers.

And the chicken hawks are still clinging to this despicable attack, knowing full well that it's false.

But then they have absolutely no way of defending this atrocity, so, of course they go on the offensive. It worked for Joe McCarthy--for a while--and it worked for this war.

The people who opposed the war were the ones who really care about our troops, who know that "support" is not a matter of waving the flag, hanging yellow ribbons, and voting Republican.

We didn't want them to go because we knew they would give up their lives for a lie. And we were right.

We were outraged when our soldiers were sent into battle with inadequate equipment, when they were forced to go back to Iraq and fight over and over, while the cowards who conceived this nightmare and the ones who support it made damn sure they were nowhere near the shooting.

Remember those days of "Freedom Fries"? Remember that idiotic line about "fighting them over there instead of fighting over here," uttered by people who never did any fighting in their lives?

Five years ago oil cost $33.51 a barrel; today it costs roughly $106 a barrel. When you have oilmen running the White House, I sincerely doubt that they want the price of oil to come down.

Since the war began, 29,395 soldiers have been wounded. There have been 82,000 to 89,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and 4.5 Million Iraqis are now refugees both inside and outside the country.

I thought were suppose to be helping those people.

Sure, the violence is down, which is a rather odd thing to be proud of--fewer people are being slaughtered--but then the chicken hawks are desperate to salvage any shred of potential good news from this train wreck.

The violence is down because so many are dead, because the horrific ethnic cleansing unleashed by Mr. Bush's Nightmare has wiped out or driven away so many people there's no one left to kill.

The war also brought Cheney's company, Halliburton into the spotlight.

Of course, his involvement with this company had absolutely nothing to do with the firm's series of no-bid contracts in Iraq.

Why, what are you implying--that this is all about the money?

Our Brave War President (BWP) continued his lies today, claiming that "the successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable." Yes, it is hard to deny something that doesn't exist.

I have these fantasies where all the war supporters--the radio spewers, the keyboard commandos in the blogosphere, the barroom tough guys, and the Young Republicans going off to work in Daddy's company--I imagine sending them over to Iraq, where they can run around screeching "the surge is working, the surge is working"--until a suicide bomber shows up.

We could put some of them in the V.A. hospitals to take care of the wounded soldiers--the ones who have had their limbs blown off, who need someone to feed them, bathe them, and wipe their rear ends when they have a bowel movement because they're incapable of doing these simple things for themselves.

And we can have these flag waving phonies deliver the bad news to families who have lost their loved ones in this lie.

They can knock on the doors, look into the eyes of a mother, a father, husband, or wife, and tell them that their loved one will not be coming home.

They can start with the family of G.I. 4000.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Today is St. Patrick's Day, but I'm not feeling the green in my blood.

It's cold, it's Monday, I'm out of work and I have to do my taxes. I was out late Friday and I don't have much of a desire to visit any saloons. So I'll probably keep a low profile today.

While I should probably listen to Irish music, like the Chieftains and the Clancy Brothers, and watch The Quiet Man, I don't have that festive feeling.

Bear Stearns just bit the dust and its shares were sold off at fire sale prices. And world markets are reacting accordingly as they tumble into oblivion.

It's like a high stakes version of the old Crazy Eddie commercial. Crazy Bernanke, his prices are insannnnnnne!!!

Hey, what a great time to give a tax cut to the rich.

We're getting a new governor in New York today, as Elliot Spurtzer--oops--Spitzer--steps down following word that he was involved in a prostitution ring.

Too bad Spitzer hadn't remained attorney general. He put those thieving bastards on Wall Street in their place.

We're coming up on the fifth anniversary of the Disaster in Iraq. Five years, five goddamn years, that's what this bum Bush and his puppet master, Dick Cheney, have given us.

We're closing in on 4,000 American dead, thousands more maimed, and God knows how many innocent Iraqis have been killed.

No weapons of mass destruction. No connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda. No end in sight.

This was supposed to be the quick war, but John "Nutsy" McCain is willing to stay there for the next hundred years.

Oh, and by the way, do you remember when McCain walked around that marketplace in Baghdad and pronounced the place safe--even though he was wearing a bullet proof vest and was backed up by one hundred soldiers and five attack helicopters circling overhead?

Well, now CNN is reporting that McCain was back in Iraq, along with fellow war-loving idiots Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. They tried to visit the Shorja market, but it was too unsafe and they were unable to go.

It seems that this area is controlled by the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi army.

But forget that. Just keep chanting "the surge is working, the surge is working." That'll make everything better.

Cheney is there, too. This is the guy who got five, count 'em, five deferments from Vietnam, because he had "other priorities."

This is the parasite who told us we'd be greeted as liberators, the man who gave us Halliburton and its billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts, the man who engineered this fiasco.

If there's any truth to that luck of the Irish stuff, we could all use some of it right now.

Here's a prayer from St. Patrick to keep us going during troubled times. I've quoted from it before, but here it is, in it's entirety.

St. Patrick's Breast Plate

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Aqua Boy

I went for a swim tonight--seriously.

It was only for a few feet, I expended more energy than the hydroelectric plant at the Grand Coulee Dam, and I moved with all the grace of an arthritic elephant, but, yes, damn it, I was swimming.

I am in the third week of an eight-week adult swimming course at the YMCA in Park Slope and I'm loving it.

This came about after my family trip to Hawaii during Christmas, when I vowed I would finally learn how to swim.

Bear in mind that learning how to swim has been one of my top five new year's resolutions since Mario Procaccino ran for mayor of New York.

But there was something about the Hawaii trip, seeing people in the hotel pool having a great time, while I splashed around in the kid's section, well, it just got to me.

It bothered me that, although I like to be physically active, I couldn't participate in this fabulous form of exercise. There's also the safety factor, should I ever find myself in a sinking canoe, but beyond that, swimming just looks like fun.

So, at the ripe old age of 50, I decided to take the plunge. (C'mon, I held out as long as I could on that one.)

While swimming is one of the most natural skills in the world, it is anything but to me. I had decided that I just could not--or would not--swim. And that was it.

As the youngest child, my parents babied me, and I think they decided they would not to force me into swimming. Every time we got near a body of water, my mother warned to be careful, to stay away from the deep end.

The funny thing is my father always believed that there were certain times in your life when you should learn to do things--swimming, driving, and other such essentials.

But they didn't push the swimming on me and, as a result, I just made a detour around it. I was also pretty late in getting my driver's license come to think of it.

I was supposed to learn how to swim in high school, but I avoided that, always worried that I would be found out and exposed as a non-swimmer, like it was some kind of horrible disease.

I was supposed to take a swimming test in college, too. I mentioned my lack of swimming skills to my geology teacher one time and he said, "I thought you had to swim in order to get out of here."

"No," I said. "I took the subway."

I wonder if either one of these institutions will demand their diplomas back now--or make me return and take the swimming test.

I remember once when I was about seven years old, we were vacationing in our favorite resort in the Poconos, and there was another family with a kid my age or maybe even younger. The kid knew how to swim, or at least had no fear of water.

His father put a life jacket on him and kept tossing him into the adult side of the pool while the kid laughed his head off. I thought he was a psycho.

The father offered to let me borrow the life jacket and my mom was gently encouraging me to go ahead and give it a try, but I would have none of it.

I didn't trust that funny-looking orange vest and I was convinced I'd hit the water and disappear like a mobster in a cement overcoat.

The little bastard thought this was funny and called me chicken.I looked to the skies and prayed for a bolt of lightning to hit the pool.

Later that day I walked by the father and son and this sawed-off pile of rat droppings looked to his father, but obviously talking to me, and said, "I still say he's a scraggly chicken!"

I don't know where that little puss pocket is today, but if I had my way he'd be doing a Luca Brazzi at the bottom of a very foul body of water. Not that I'm one to hold a grudge, of course.

I went back to the Poconos years later as a police reporter and we always had drowning stories every summer.

Everybody in the Pool

People either didn't have the skills they needed in the water or hadn't taken the proper precautions. These incidents did nothing to increase my enthusiasm for swimming.

I almost didn't sign up for this class, citing the loss of my job as an excuse. But at a hundred bucks I knew I could afford it. The truth is, I was afraid to do it. I was being...a scraggly chicken.

Screw that nonsense. I dragged my tail down to the Y on registration day, shot the living hell out of my Saturday afternoon, which admittedly has less value now that I had nowhere to go during the week, and signed up for the class.

The instructor is this fabulous woman who has teaching swimming to people of all ages for more than 20 years.

She breaks the lessons down so you learn a little bit at a time--putting your face in the water, kicking your legs--before going on to the next lesson. And you can always step back if you get confused.

She's funny, knowledgeable, and has this ability to take the mystical aura out of swimming. I see now that this is not some arcane ability passed down through the ages by medieval wizards to a chosen few.

It's logic in motion.

"We were all born swimming out of our mothers," one of my classmates, a Jamaican man, said after our first class.

"Yes," I said, "and once I hit dry land I kept on going and didn't look back."

I saved money on the class with my hairdo, since, as a bald guy, I don't have to buy a bathing cap. There's an African-American man in the class who also sports a shaved dome and is exempt from the bathing cap rule as well.

I was thinking of the Kojak comparison, but my Jamaican friend called me Moby last week, saying I look like the techno pop performer. (Hell, every white guy with a shaved head looks like him. Or Kojak.)

Yeah, I thought later, I look like Moby, but I swim like Ahab.

On the first class, the teacher had us putting our faces in the water, something that had always terrified me. But I began to lose some of that fear.

I got myself a set of swimming goggles, which kind of make me look like a comic book crime fighter, and hit the pool the following week. The instructor is ably assisted by a soft-spoken young man with a huge tattoo of an eagle (I think) on his back.

This fellow just sort of appears next to you and gently tells you where you're going wrong and then sinks below the surface.

Last week, we tried floating, and while this did not go well, I was determined to get it down. And tonight, I was actually moving across the water.

My form was hideous and I had to keep telling myself to kick and use the arms, and don't hold your breath and relax, for Christ's sake, but I was making progress.

Relaxing is the key to swimming, like so many other things in this life. If you're tensed up and nervous, whatever you're doing, whether its swimming, boxing, fan dancing or singing at the Met, it's going to suffer.

I know it's important not to get ahead of myself or get overly excited about this. Mark Spitz has nothing to worry about, that's for sure. And I've got a lot more to learn. But at least I'm learning now.

I never thought I'd be able to do anything like this. I just walled off that area of life, like that guy in "The Cask of Amontillado." Gone and never to be heard from again.

So I'm knocking down that wall and I wonder about what other things I've cut out of my life, bricked over and forgotten about because I was afraid or convinced I didn't have the ability.

We still have five more weeks of class and after that I may take one of the advanced beginner classes to hone my skills. No longer a scraggly chicken, I'll be a super-sleek penguin knifing through the waters.

Then I'm going to track down that little putz from the Poconos and hold his head below the surface until he's bubbling like an Alka-Seltzer tablet.

Better dig out that life jacket, kid. Moby is out to get you.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Story Time

There's a classic Looney Tunes cartoon called an "Itch in Time" where Elmer Fudd's dog falls victim to a hungry flea.

Dying to scratch, but terrified of being given a bath, the poor mutt sweats and trembles until he finally explodes and runs around the room howling like a loon and dragging his aching butt across the floor.

In the middle of this breakdown, the dog stops dead in his tracks, looks to the camera and says "I gotta cut this out--I could get to like it." And then resumes his conniption.

I thought of that cartoon after attending the Brooklyn Blogade yesterday in Kensington. This was a fabulous event, hosted by Joyce of Bad Girl Blog, and held at the Old Brick Cafe Lounge on Church Avenue.

Joyce came up with the brilliant idea of asking participants to read or show material from their blogs.

I was really impressed with the talent of the people in the group. There were excellent observations and descriptions, along with some fine short films and animation.

I brought two items with me, one funny, one not so funny. When it was my turn to read, I decided to go with the not-so-funny post, mostly because it was the shorter of the two.

The piece was called "We Bleed," a post I wrote in August 2005 about my father's first day at an adult daycare center.

I contrasted this with my first day at Brooklyn Technical High School when I was so terrified and my father was so supportive.

I had read this piece once before in public with no problem, but as I read about watching my father sitting down with the other seniors at the center, I started crying.

It was very embarrassing, especially since so many of the other bloggers had read such funny posts and here I was bringing everybody down.

I guess I was in a pretty fragile state of mind and I just wasn't aware of it. At one point, Brenda of Crazy Stable very kindly offered to read for me, but I thought I should do this on my own.

I finally got finished and stumbled back to my seat while my fellow bloggers gave me much appreciated pats and hugs. It really felt good being surrounded by such supportive people.

I've been weeping a lot lately, especially when I think of my mother.

Even though we're coming up on the sixth anniversary of her death, I still can't believe--or I refuse to believe--that she's gone.

I see her face, I hear her voice, and my eyes well up. I think my current situation has something to do with it--unemployed, middle-aged, disappointed, and very little on the horizon.

The fact is, my parents are gone; I can keep them in my heart, try to remember what they taught me, but I can't run to them for support or protection. I really am an adult--and if that isn't enough to make you start crying then nothing will.

So I am like Elmer Fudd's dog--crying and getting upset because I like it? I know I have problems with anger--I was cursing pretty heavily at the F train yesterday.

Crying can release pent-up emotions. It's a form of relief and it's only natural to seek relief when you're in pain.

When you shed tears, you're pretty much admitting that you've hit bottom and now you're going to start climbing back up. The fall hurts, but it always feels good to get up off the canvas.

I want to express my deepest thanks to my fellow bloggers for putting up with me. It was great hearing and seeing your fabulous work and next time I promise, I'm going to read the funny stuff.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

And Nothing Like the Truth

There I was, paddling down the Zambezi hell bent for leather, with 100 ferocious pygmy warriors in hot pursuit.

Up ahead, a raging hippo squatted in the water with his mouth wide open waiting to devour me.

I was about to dive overboard and swim for shore, but I saw the Loch Ness Monster doing the butterfly crawl just below my canoe. Then Big Foot started throwing boulders at me from a nearby sandbar. Who invited him?

It was looking pretty serious when suddenly a zeppelin being piloted by Charo and Margaret Thatcher came sailing over the horizon.

I somersaulted out of the canoe and onto a dangling road ladder, climbed up to the gondola and hopped straight into a hot tube, where Angelina Jolie declared her undying love me while text-messaging Brad Pitt that it was all over.

Now that was one hell of a weekend.

All right, so, maybe I'm exaggerating some of the stuff in that story. As a matter of fact, there are no facts in that story; I fabricated the whole thing and tried to pass it off as the truth.

My big question: So what?

I ask because truth, reality, and those ever so annoying facts seem to mean less and less today, at least when it comes to publishing books.

The newly-released “memoir” Love and Consequences has just joined the ever-expanding list of fraudulent non-fiction.

The author—liar?—told the harrowing tale of living in South Central L.A., surrounded by rampant gang violence and drug dealing. The book contained details of shootings and murders and all sorts of terrible things happening on the streets of a major American city.

There was just one problem. The whole thing was fake, including the author, who, it turns out, was not a mixed race gang banger living on the edge, but a Wonder Bread suburban princess who went to a private Episcopal day school.

Details, details—why is everybody being so picky? It’s not like this is the first time this has happened.

Who could forget A Million Little Pieces--though I’m sure a lot of people would like to?

Or the incredible J T Leroy, aka Laura Albert? Or the book about the Holocaust that just happened to be, oh, shucks, a total falsehood? What were you expecting from these books, anyway? The truth?

Well, yeah, I guess I was.

It is asking to much of a non-fiction writer to tell us a true story? And if you can't handle the truth--and apparently a lot of these writers can't--then maybe you could just drop the "non" part and write, oh, I don't know...fiction?

When did novel writing become such a disgrace? When did creating something with your imagination fall out of favor? Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Mickey Spillane--those guys all wrote fiction and it didn't do them any harm. At least, I don't think it did.

The Love and Consequences story--the story about the book, not the one in the book--is particularly interesting to me, as I followed the writer's rise and fall.

One day I'm reading a glowing review in the Times. The next day I'm reading an article about the author and how she's making a new life for herself in Oregon.

And then, just a few days ago, right on the front page, I find out the whole thing was a lie. It was like April Fool's Day came early.

Apparently there's not much book publishers can do about this kind of noxious creative writing.

Nan A. Talese, publisher of A Million Little Pieces, was quoted in the Times as saying "I don’t think there is any way you can fact-check every single book. It would be very insulting and divisive in the author-editor relationship.”

Say what? How about the author-reader relationship? You remember us, the readers, don't you? We're the ones who buy the books.

I'm feeling pretty insulted myself whenever one of these truth-less tomes hits the book stores. I feel like nobody gives a rat's ass that I'm being force fed falsehoods. That's rather divisive, don't you think?

Maybe these authors should try working on a daily newspaper, where editors question your stories from start to finish. They'll call you at home if they have to, and that's the way it should be.

There's nothing insulting about trying to nail down the facts. It beats getting nailed by the facts.

You have to wonder what makes people think they can actually get away with this kind of thing, particularly in this Internet age when so much information is available just by taking a couple of laps around Google.

Cross My Heart and Hope To Lie

I’ve long since given up on people being honest, forthright and truthful. I’m just amazed at their stupidity.

And what is the point of doing this, beyond the obvious acquisition of money and fame? Either you get caught or you spend your life worrying about getting caught. That seems like too high a price for me.

Does celebrity mean so much to them that it completely clouds their minds to--you should pardon the term--consequences? Or do they start believing their own lies and become victims of the con game they created?

I don't begin to accept the argument that a well-written story is all that matters and the truth be damned. The truth is being damned, damn it, by these damn lying sons-of-bitches.

If someone walked up to you on the street and told you what they claimed was a true story and that story turned out to be a lie, I doubt if you would be entertained. I suspect you'd be rather pissed.

No story can be a flawless recitation of the facts. People see things differently, remember them differently. I do my best when I blog about things that happen in my life, but I'm only giving my side of things.

There are bound to be some gray spots. But the gray shouldn't cover the entire book.

A lot of writers like to boast about their street cred, how they lived amongst gangsters, drug dealers and murderers, and barely survived to tell the tale.

And that's okay, as long as your bad-ass resume is true.

But this current crop of keyboard con artists wants to tell war stories without actually going to war. They want to tell us all about the blood and the guts and the mayhem, but they want to skip all the pesky fighting.

That "street" part is a bitch, ain't it?

My father fought in the Second World War and he had dozens of stories to tell, and I always draw a crowd whenever I repeat them.

But he paid an unimaginable price to acquire these stories. He saw his friends killed and wounded, lived in nearly constant fear and we wonder just how much damage the war did to his mind.

It's impossible to believe that you can come away from such an experience without any scars. I think we're seeing this being played out again, now that some of the Iraq War veterans have come marching home.

I always cringe when I see a movie tagline reading "Based on a True Story." The key word is "based" or maybe it's "debased" given the abuse reality usually takes in these films.

And a film that's inspired by a true story seems even further away from reality. Inspired could mean you drove by someone's house one night and were inspired to write a horror movie.

I'm working on a crime novel, but I'm not trying to pass myself off as some low-level mobster or street corner survivor. I remember when I told my aunt that I was working on a Mafia story.

"You're not like those people!" she declared.

And she's right. I'm not a soldier, or a wiseguy, or a button man. I'm not a thug or a tough guy.

I'm just doing the best I can in the research department to give my book a feeling of accuracy, but I'm inventing the characters and events.

Now there's a novel idea. And I'm sure Angelina feels the same way.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bad Girl Blogade

Calling all Brooklyn bloggers!

This Sunday, March 9, Bad Girl Blog will be hosting the monthly blogade at the Old Brick Cafe on Church Avenue in Kensington.

The theme of this event will be "Show and Tell" and she describes it on her blog as follows:

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 kicks off at 12 p.m.

For $15 per person (tip at our discretion), the menu includes:
--an appetizer pastry called burek
--a main course of cevapi (shish kebab), chicken cutlet or vegetarian lasagna
--dessert and coffee

The Old Brick Cafe is located at 507 Church Ave. between Ocean Parkway and E. 5th Street (very close to the Church Avenue stop on the F train, and not far from the Q stop on Church Avenue)

So come on down, bloggers, and bring your best stuff with you.