Sunday, April 27, 2008

Walk, Don't Race

"I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy—myself."
---A Warrior’s Prayer by Chief Redcloud

I watched a rat race the other day.

That’s not a figure of speech about the daily, soul-destroying grind of the average working stiff.

I mean I actually saw two rats having a race.

I was standing on the platform of the R station at 36th Street, as part of my daily, soul-destroying grind to the office when I looked down on the tracks and saw one rat being chased by another.

I guess they were racing, or playing tag. Or maybe they were going to do the wild thing, the little rat fuck bastards.

Whatever they were doing, I'm pretty certain they were having more fun than I was.

I finished my second week at the new job and let’s just say that I need to do some mental adjustments to keep from running away to join the circus.

I don’t want to say that I’ve been depressed, but the other day I was walking down Sixth Avenue after a numbing day at the office and a homeless man hanging out on the corner told me to cheer up.

I know that sounds like a Henry Youngman line, but it really did happen. A man clutching a Styrofoam cup and hustling for change on the mean streets of New York saw how miserable I was.

"Smile, man," he said. "it's not so bad."

It took me a few seconds to realize he was speaking to me and not some hallucination. Then I grinned, turned around and gave him all the change in my pocket. I felt much better.

I got into a real rat race years ago while jogging down the bike path on the Narrows and one cold and very dark morning when a rat came out of the shadows and crossed my path.

This particular rodent freaked when he saw and instead of running away, he started running in front of me. We looked like we were competing in some kind of inter-species track meet.

“Get out of here!” I screamed and he finally bolted.

That's one of the many reasons I prefer working out at the gym.

I’m taking the express in Manhattan every day now that I’m working in Soho. I get a few minutes outdoors as D train travels over the bridge and then it’s back underground.

Unlike my previous commute to Wall Street, I never get a seat on the D. But it’s nice being in Soho, away from the financial district after almost those years of slogging around the stock market.

I always try to look out the window when the train goes over the bridge, like a tourist, even though I’ve lived here most of my life. I like to take a look at the outside world for a minute or so before pulling into Grand Street.

The other morning I looked out the window and saw this young guy on bike pedaling along the footpath. From my angle, all I could see was the biker with his head down, his legs pumping steadily, and the water below.

A Bridge Too Far

It could have been anywhere in the world and I found myself remembering the time I rented a bike in San Francisco about 10 years ago while visiting my brother and his family.

I biked over the Golden Gate Bridge from the Embarcadero to Sausalito, where I took the ferry back. The young guy who had rented the bike to me noticed the cap I wore that said Brooklyn. He advised me to chain the bike up whenever I got off of it.

“You’re from Brooklyn so you know what that’s about,” he said.

I kept thinking about that bike ride over the Pacific as I watched this man on the Manhattan Bridge.

I imagined that the bike rider was free, traveling on this beautiful day without a care in the world. It seemed that way for the 30 or so seconds that I saw of him.

My train kept an even pace with him and then his path took him up into the sunlight and ours took us back into the rat hole.

He took the high road and we took the low road. I don’t know who got to Scotland afore who, but I’d really like to be in San Francisco right now.

At Grand Street, the conductor had a message for us.

"Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your eyes and ears," he said. "Because of you we are able to continue our trip."

I'm not sure what he meant by that. Was it some kind of variation of the Homeland Security message I hear most days--"if you see something, say something" line? Maybe a passenger had just given him a hot tip about some terrorists wielding Metrocards.

I’ll have to settle for Soho, but not for too long, apparently. It seems I can't escape the gravitational pull of Wall Street.

My new company is going to be leaving its Houston Street-area location sometime between September and December and moving downtown to, yep, the financial district.

I’m feel like Al Pacino in “The Godfather Part III” when he roars, “I keep trying to get out of the business, but the business keeps pulling me back in!”

It’ll be easier for me in many ways, but easy isn’t always the best way, especially if you get locked in a comfort zone where you do things that are familiar only because they’re familiar.

But once we’re downtown, I’ll have a ride to work and I’ll be closer to my favorite gym and my church, Trinity.

I had recently wrote to one of the priests there, telling him how much I missed the place, and how I used to go from his service and right to my gym half-a-block away.

This priest, Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones, gives out copies of a poem after each service and the last one I got from him was “The Warrior’s Prayer” by Chief Red Cloud.

I had stuffed it into my wallet as I left the service--I thought it was my last one there--and forgot all about it, until I discovered it last week when I needed to write down a phone number.

It is a very moving piece of work and the timing was excellent, since I was feeling pretty fragile in my new surroundings.

Rev. Bozzuti-Jones He answered my e-mail last week, addressing me as “Rob of God,” which is unquestionably a first in my lifetime.

“I wanted to let you know that I miss having you here at Trinity,” he wrote, “even if you went to gym afterwards. Hope you are settling well into the new job and I hope you will keep in touch.”

I told him I'd be back in the fall and he responded by saying “That’s why I never say goodbye.”

Some days the rat race doesn't seem so bad after all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blogfest is Coming!

The Third Annual Brooklyn Blogfest, a gathering of Brooklyn bloggers who write about their neighborhoods and anything else that matters to them, will be happening on Thursday, May 8.

If you're a blogger, an aspiring blogger, or you just love Brooklyn, come on down.

The event was founded and is organized by Louise Crawford of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.

Every year, the number of participants in the Blogfest doubles and this year will prove to be no exception.

And now for some details...

WHEN: Thursday, May 8 at 8 pm

WHERE: The Brooklyn Lyceum
227 Fourth Avenue at President's Street, Park Slope

ADMISSION: $10, Students $5

I went to last year's Blogfest and I had a blast. I met a group of very cool, talented people and we've been getting together about once a month in various Brooklyn neighborhoods ever since.

If it wasn't for this group, I would never have taken a ride on the G train and that alone was quite an experience.

I've been pretty much the only blogger representing Bay Ridge and I would like to see that change. I know there are a lot of fine bloggers in my neck of the woods and I would love to see you at the Blogfest.

For more information--what, you need more?--check out or

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lost Cause

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief.
--Bob Dylan

I had wrapped up my first week at my new job on Friday when one of my co-workers gave me some great advice.

“Go get lost,” she said.

That wasn’t as harsh as it sounds.

After working in the financial district for the last seven or so years, I am now doing my business within walking distance of the West Village--a nice location indeed.

My co-worker was merely suggesting that I take a walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the place.

Actually, I had been getting lost all week at the job. Every time I got up from a desk in my new office and walked a few feet away, I could not find my way back.

I mean, I really couldn’t do it, under the threat of torture, even if you played “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods over and over, I still couldn't tell you where my desk was.

Now that is seriously lost.

I’ve never been in an office so strangely configured. You turn one corner and you’re instantly MIA. I swear somebody rearranges the place every night after I go home, like some vast Rubik’s Cube.

Captain Cook could have buried all his treasure in this place with no fear of it ever being discovered. Making a map of the place would have been a different story.

If I don’t get this squared away soon I’ll have to hire a Sherpa guide to help me find the men’s room.

People in the office have been helpful, though. One woman helped me find my way back to my desk twice in the same afternoon.

“I’d be lost without you,” I told her. And I meant it.

I try to help people out when they seem lost. Last week, I was standing at the Bay Ridge Avenue station of the R train when this Mexican guy came up to me and showed me a piece of paper with an address on it.

It was on 18th Avenue, which meant he had to go one stop, get off at 59th Street, cross over to the other side and catch the N train.

That’s simple enough, but when the person you’re talking to can’t speak English, it puts a different spin on the situation.

As I gestured and pointed and tried to explain myself, I thought about the various cable TV hate mongers, these alleged "patriots", who are make a career of ripping into a guy like this.

While I have no proof, I suspect that he's here illegally. I don't know what to do about the problem of illegal immigrants, but I know fostering hatred is not going to help any.

This was just a guy who was lost—as I have been at various times of my life.

I indicated that he should wait for the train and he immediately took a position right next to me on the platform, like we were some kind of musical act.

Oy, I thought, I’ve made a friend.

No quite, but I was glad to help. At 59th Street I pointed to where he should go and wished him luck, though I doubt if he understood me.

I once had an immigrant double-header at Prince Street when this elderly Russian couple asked me for directions on the R train.

Which Way Did I Go?

They, too, spoke very little English, and I had to explain to them that they were heading the wrong way and the only thing they could do at this particular station was go a few stops up to Union Square and come back downtown.

I launch into this pantomime and it must have looked like I was guiding planes on the runway at JFK. I was waving my arms, pointing my fingers, all I needed was a tuxedo and I could have been conducting the Boston Pops.

And in the middle of my routine, I notice this woman starting at me. I assumed she didn’t approve of my directions and was about to say, “don’t listen to this bastard, do this instead.” This is New York, after all.

“How am I doing?” I asked her.

“I'm just listening,” she said in a lovely French accent. "I need directions, too."

“Where are you going?”

“Times Square.”

“Okay," I said, "follow the Russians. Only don’t get off at Union Square…”

I'll often help tourists who are wandering around with vacant looks on their faces; the ones clutching the tourist maps are usually the ones who are really lost.

Riding home on the train the other night, I watched as an elderly woman tried to ask a young man across from her where she should get off to get to Ovington Avenue.

Unfortunately this guy was hooked up to his Ipod and so he just kept staring off into space while the woman waved her hand and chanted "woo-hoo!" to get his attention. Finally, I stepped in and told her to get off at Bay Ridge Avenue.

Now on Friday night I wandered around and found a lovely Episcopal church, St. Luke of the Fields, on Hudson Street. I still miss Trinity Church, where I went while working at my old job, but I’m too far away now.

I went inside and found a woman setting up candles in the chapel behind the altar.

“We celebrating the Eucharist in a few minutes,” she told me. “You can join us if you like.”

Oh, great, just how I want to start the weekend—going to church. I told her that I might just do that and then left. It was lovely spring night, it was Friday for God’s sake—oops!—did I really want to spend it praying?

Well, after a walk down to the river and then back up Christopher Street, I decided I did want to do just that, and I hustled back to St. Luke’s.

When I got to the chapel I found the lady who had told me about the service and the priest…and that’s all. No other people had showed up.

It’s funny how the mind works—or fails to work, as the case may be.

As I stood in there in the chapel, I thought this is pathetic, three people having a service in this nearly empty church while the rest of the world is going out of its TGIF-ing mind. What am I doing here?

But as the service went on, I started to think that it was pretty cool, being in this select group. It felt good praying with these people and I experienced real comfort when I received communion.

This just shows you how important your perception of things really is. You can make anything awful if you put your mind to it; no one’s going to stop it.

But if you ignore those ugly voices bouncing around your head, you might be able to find something good to take home with you.

The service was so short and with three people, exchanging the sign of peace went by pretty quickly.

It was all over in under a half-hour and then I was back out on the street, wandering through the village. I was lost, but now I was found, as the song says.

Now all have to do is make that happen at the office.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Uncharted Waters

I love the smell of chlorine in the evening. It smells like...victory.
--Me, just now

I still can't believe I did this.

I actually swam--swam, I say, across the deep end of the pool tonight.

This was the culmination of eight weeks of training in my adult swimming class and while most people would think nothing of this little jaunt across the pool, for me it had all the suspense of an Indiana Jones cliffhanger.

I've been enjoying this class tremendously; it has made me do something that I thought I would never be able to do: namely, swim.

My form is from hunger and if I were moving any slower I'd be going backwards, but every week I would get in the pool at Park Slope YMCA and actually swim. However, this was always in the shallow end, the kiddie portion where the waters are all of four feet high.

"We're going on a field trip," the teacher announced toward the end of tonight's class.

Field trip? Where, pray tell?

"To the deep end of the pool."

Oh, hell, no!

Now, to her credit, the teacher started us off easy. First we went over to the deep side by holding on to the side of the pool. When we reached the opposite end, we stood on a little ledge about four feet down.

Then she had us drop down to the bottom on the pool and come back up while still holding on to the side.

I thought this was it, we had reached the summit and now it was time to hit the showers. Oy, did I call that one wrong.

The teacher had half of us go to one side of the pool, the other half go to the opposing side and, yes, you got it, then had us swim across the pool.

Now I've been doing this for weeks. Back and forth, back and forth--it was cut and dried, even though I was all wet.

But while the distance was still the same, the depth was a hell of a lot depthier.

Now, I'm going to be honest: I froze. I panicked, I freaked. It was like being back in Catholic school and I thank God that nuns can't float.

I stood there holding on to the edge of the pool while my classmates made the journey to the other side one after the other.

"C'mon," AJ, the assistant instructor said. "You can do it."

But I couldn't. I couldn't let go of the ledge and go into the deep water. I was convinced I would drown. Every time I made the move to swim, my left hand kept pulling me back.

My classmates--who should canonized for their kindness--all rallied around me, encouraging me.

"If I can do it," one young man said, "you can do it."

"Just relax," another said, "take your time."

"I'm not going to let you drown," AJ said. "I'm an experienced lifeguard."

Swim Said the Mommy Fishy

I knew he wouldn't let me drown, but bad luck has a sneaky way of showing up and ruining the party. I knew how badly, how depressed I would feel if I ended the class by not taking this step.

I had come this far, how could I turn back now?

I thought of my mother and how proud she would be if she were still alive. I thought of my aunt and my sister and how supportive they had been. And I still couldn't do it.

"Who hasn't gone across yet?" the instructor asked.

I raised my soggy hand and she swam over to me.

"Do you want to try it by the end of the pool?"

I quickly agreed. With the wall on one side and my teacher on the other, plus two other lifeguards in the room, the odds were in my favor.

I put my arms out in front of me, took a deep breath, and...swam.

I was churning through the water like a lovesick manatee during mating season. I was not stopping, I was not quitting, and I sure was hell not drowning, not tonight, anyway.

When I got to the other side of the pool, all my classmates broke out into wild applause. I blew them all kisses and took a watery bow. I still can't believe I did it.

I overcame my fear, but I also saw the goodness in people. They were my classmates, yes, but we only saw each other one night a week.

They didn't know me from a can of paint and yet they were all pulling for me. Brace yourself for a shock, but I get a little teary-eyed when I think about it. (No, really?!?)

And I have to take that goodness out into the world with me. I had to spread it around, help people when they need it because we all wind up in the deep end of the pool at one time or another.

I also took on that voice inside my head, Mr. Negative, Mr. No-Way-in-Hell, the same son-of-a-bitch who has been holding me back for most of my life.

You are not your thoughts. That's a line from one of my self-help books and I learned tonight just how true that is.

The voice that tells you that you are unworthy or incapable, that's not you, just a lot of bad stuff from your life trying to sound like you.

I saw this rather crappy movie over the weekend called Revolver. It had all the slow-motion shooting and tough guy wannabe lingo, but the best moment occurs at the end when the hero, who has a fear of elevators, takes on his worst enemy in a stuck elevator.

The enemy is himself, of course, and the scene cuts from the actor, Jason Statham, looking normal, to a screaming, bug-eyed doppleganger who rants about how he's the hero's best friend and how Statham can't live without him.

But he can. And when Statham finally rejects this negative nutbag, the elevator starts up again and our hero walks out alone.

I had the same scene tonight, only in a swimming pool, instead of an elevator. I told my negative self to take a hike, to go jump in the lake. I went swimming and left him on the shore.

Now, I still have a lot of work to do in the swimming department, and I intend to do it.

And I'm also going to keep an eye out for Mr. Negative because he doesn't give up easily.

Fortunately, neither do I.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Attack of the Awful Toupees

You’ve got to love spring in New York.

The weather is warm, people are wearing t-shirts and sandals, and all over town, men are strapping on hideous hairpieces.

Yes, it’s open season on bad rugs in New York, and you don’t have to be Buffalo Bill to spot one of these monstrosities coming down the avenue.

They seem ready to leap off their owners’ heads and go right for your throat.

I spotted one last night while waiting outside the Guggenheim Museum, when a guy walked by me with this thing on his head that could have easily been a piece of modern art.

I nailed another one in Manhattan two days earlier, but the wig in question was so horrible I have since forgotten the exact location. You could call it post-traumatic rug syndrome.

Maybe I have keener eye because of my own follicle-challenged dome, but I’ve seen a couple of road kill specials that just make you want to body slam the occupants, rip the offending toupee off their melons and hurl them down the nearest sewer—the toupees, not the men…at least not for a first offense.

Hey, nobody likes being bald and I can only thank the Good Lord that head-shaving has become so popular in recent years.

It sure as hell wasn’t like that when I was growing up. Back then, shaved heads were reserved for escaped mental patients and Curly Howard. That's it. Either you were being slapped by Moe or you were being dragged away by burly men in white coats.

It wasn't considered cool or sexy. In those dark days, a shaved head screamed "freak" in block letters.

Yes, we had Telly Savalas and Yul Brenner, but they were celebrities, for God’s sake, they could do anything. They didn't have real jobs.

Today there are more baldies than ever and we’re not automatically tagged as Nazis or androids. But it can get a little annoying if there’s more than one of us in the room.

When I spot another skinhead, I usually drop the line, “hey, we go to the same barber” for a couple of cheap yuks.

More than two bald guys, it gets a little iffy, and if there’s more than four of us in the same room, it looks like a cult.

I went to a free screening a few years back of the Hulk (the one they’re pretending didn’t happen—if only) and there were so many guys with shaved heads we could have had our own section. Hairless or non-hairless?

There are people with a full head of hair who actually choose to shave their heads, which perplexes the ever living hell out of me.

As a balding man, I can only say what is wrong with you people?!? You should be down on your knees thanking the Almighty for this great gift, not throwing it away!!

I knew a certain police chief in one of the towns I covered in the Poconos who got a hairpiece. He had been bald for years and then one day he wasn’t, so you really didn’t need Colombo to figure out that something was afoot. Or ahead.

Hair Raid

He was later charged—and acquitted—of stealing the town’s parking meter money (no, I’m not making that up) and the state attorney general had alleged he used the ill-gotten coin to buy a tanning bed and “top of the line hairpieces.”

I tell you, if that hairpiece was top of the line, I would hate like hell to meet the bottom of the line rug in a dark alley. Or in the light of day, for that matter.

When I was a reporter in Connecticut, I once did a story about business owners who made their own TV commercials. The champion of this particular sector was, of course, Sy Sperling, capo di tutti toupee of the Hair Club for Men.

You remember him, right? The guy who wasn’t just the president of the club, he was also a client.

I thought it would be fun to interview old Sy so I could HC HQ, left a message, and waited…and waited…and waited some more.

I didn’t want the company to call and leave a message because I feared it would look like I was interesting in getting a hairpiece, that I, too, wanted to be a client--instead of trying to further the cause of good journalism.

This was back in my thinning days, when I kept my hair short, but I still kept it. I had not yet learned the joys of head-shaving, where you just wipe the slate clean and put your barber out of business.

I had to get to the bank before it closed so finally, I hot-tailed it down to the branch on East Main Street and came streaking back to the office with the wind whistling through my scalp.

And there was the message with the receptionist, the little pink slip marked “While You Were Out” or some such crap: “the Hair Club for Men called.”

I was tempted to explain the situation to the receptionist, but I thought I’d just make things worse, so finally I pulled the plug (s) and went skulking back to my desk. And I’m a first class skulker, I’ll have you know.

I forgot whom I spoke with at the Hair Club, but it wasn’t Sy. I’m glad I never went that whole hairpiece route (root?) since it seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Fittings, and trimmings, enough already, just shave everything off and be done with it.

A lot of balding men tell me they'd love to shave off their remaining hair, but they have the wrong-shaped head.

Wrong shaped head? What exactly does that mean? Is there some cranial commission going around town inspecting shaved heads and ordering the offending alopecia sufferers to get to the nearest toupee emporium.

I treated myself to a new electric razor this week in honor of my new job. I had been using blades for a while, but the electric feels close enough and hopefully I'll be cutting down on the blood loss.

But since this is America, I guess people have the right to wear atrocious hairpieces if they so choose.

Hell, George Washington wore a wig and not only was he the president of our country, he was also a client…or a citizen…or something like that.

So, yes, wig-wears, you and your vinyl hair go forth into the sunshine, secure in the knowledge that while others may snicker, nothing will separate you from your hair, unless it’s you.

But you comb-over guys had better watch out...

Thursday, April 10, 2008


"I'd rather be a failure at something I love, than a success at something I hate." --George Burns

They got me.

I don’t know how this happened, I don’t know whom to blame, but somehow I landed a job and I start next week.

I know I should be happy. I know I should be thankful, given all those people who are out of work right now, who would give anything to trade places with me.

And I am happy and thankful, I honestly am. But I’m also nervous as hell.

It started out innocently enough. I answered this ad, like so many others, and I went in from an interview.

Next thing I know, they’re offering me a job. It sounds like a sailor’s tale of being shanghaied, but then a large part of my life has that same ring to it.

Naturally, I get laid off in the winter, so I can freeze my ass off going out on interviews, and now I'm going back into the office just as the weather is getting better.

They seem like nice people, they’re paying me more money than my last job, and it’s good to have a job in these scary economic times. I just wish I felt more confident and enthusiastic about this gig.

I guess that whenever I’m unemployed I fantasize about finding the perfect job, or selling my novel or screenplay, so I won’t have to work at an office ever again.

I thought I might finally relocate to California like I’ve been talking about since the Big Bang, or head down to Australia, or anywhere else but my family’s house.

Now I’m back to the part-time writer, the hyphen life that Richard Price likes to talk about. And I'm worried I won't have enough time to work on my fiction, even though I've been living this double life for decades.

It’s just that I’m getting older now—51 next month! How long do you keep dreaming about becoming famous? When do you throw in the towel?

I know the answer already: never. And you don’t dream about being famous or successful, you work at it. But I’d love to be able to drop that hyphen.

Gene Weingarten, a writer for the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize for this story where he had violinist Joshua Bell play outside a D.C. Metro station and see if anyone noticed.

That’s a brilliant idea for a story and that’s the kind of reporting I’d like to do--if I have to do reporting at all.

But none of the newspapers I ever worked at gave me that opportunity. We love your writing, they’d tell me, now go cover that car wreck.

And let's be honest here: newspapers are losing circulation. It is not a healthy industry by any measurement.

I’ve been feeling very fragile lately, which is a typical response to upheaval. I was on the R train Sunday when this young South Asian man got on the train with his little daughter.

She was adorable, with these beautiful brown eyes, and I felt such regret—once again--about not having children. I spent a good part of Sunday crying and regretting the path that I allowed myself to take.

It was crazy. I was weeping while I was washing the dishes. This is not good for me. I had gone to the gym that day, but working up a sweat doesn’t really do much in the face of some poor life decisions.

I remember when I used to think that anyone who had a family was a prisoner. I thought I was free back then, but I’m not feeling very free now. I’m feeling awfully lonely.

When I was a kid--probably first or second grade--I had this terrible crying fit after watching an Abbott & Costello movie called "Little Giant."

It was crap, of course, but I was young. It had a happy ending, but I fixated on some sad scene in the middle and began crying my eyes out.

Somebody's Crying

I couldn't bring myself to tell my parents what was troubling me--even at that age it sounded weird. My father held me in his arms while my mother literally wrung her hands trying to figure out what the problem was. I never did confess.

Years later, I had another breakdown while watching "Dumbo" with my mother. This was one of the lowest parts of my life: I was an alleged adult with no job, bad health, and no hope.

When the film came to the "Baby Mine, Don't You Cry" part, well, I think you can guess what happened. I fell apart.

My poor mother--God, this woman was a saint--tried to console me, told me everything would be all right, and I eventually calmed down. But I can't watch "Dumbo" any more.

The next day, she came into my room to tell me something and then, as she left, she turned and said very gently, "no more Dumbos."

I'm trying, Mom, I really am. But sometimes I fall off the wagon. It's a shame you and Dad aren't here anymore to help me get through the rough spots.

My sister told me she had a dream the other night where she left me behind on a family trip to Italy.

She kept me together during the plane trip back from Hawaii during Christmas, so she was feeling terribly guilty about leaving behind in Italy, but I tell you, it doesn't sound so bad to me.

Hell, I'd just probably stay there and become a gondolier in Venice. I've had worse jobs, believe me.

Meanwhile, I dreamed about a giant spider that was trying to get me. The thing was squatting on my neighbor's roof and it had be wrapped up in its thread.

I broke away but then the spider turned into a man, who was covered in some kind of gunk and swearing he'd get me. He was also missing an arm because I had hacked off one of the spider's limbs. I guess he was a were-spider.

So I'm nervous about a new job, I'm worried about my life's path, and I dream about man-eating spiders. Do you see a connection?

I prefer my sister's dream of marooning me in Italy. I don't think they have giant spiders over there.

The other night I watched a DVD of Death of a Salesman—the one with Dustin Hoffman—and I managed to get even more depressed. I feel like a combination of Willy and Biff Loman, the Incredible Two-Header Loser. Watch him age and refuse to grow up at the same time!

All right, enough, bellyaching. It's time to be--ugh!--an adult. So now that I'm working, I won't be able to listen to NPR all day long like I've doing since January.

That's a shame because the hosts on WNYC interview so many novelists and other sorts of creative people that you can draw a lot of inspiration just by listening to the programs.

I said farewell to my instructor and friends at the Wall Street branch of the New York Sports Club. I’ve been going there for five years now and it'll feel strange working out at a different branch.

And I went to my last lunch time service at Trinity Church. I'll be working in Soho, so I'll be too far away to get down there.

At the end of the service, I said goodbye to my Hispanic buddy who always sit in the pew in front of me and who always wishes me a blessed day.

He's such nice man, the sort of person who reminds you that there really are decent people in the world.

And I said goodbye to the priest, a Jamaican gentleman who always gives a tremendous sermon.

“Oh, man!” he softly wailed when I told him I was moving on. “Keep in touch.”

Yes, that much I can do.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Nut Behind The Wheel

I stood alongside my rented van in the dead of night and tried to open the rear door.

I should tell you that this wasn't actually happening; this was a dream I had recently and it's still on my mind.

I don't know what I was doing with a rented van and why I was out so late at night, but this was a dream after all, not the six o'clock news.

I aimed the remote at the van to open the rear door, so naturally the front windows came down. I hit another button and the rear windows came down.

Okay, I thought, I'll get in back of this bastard and aim the remote straight at the offending door.

The little electronic blips coming out of the obstreperous--nice word, no?--device will have a shorter distance, more direct route.

That worked just fine, for a few seconds anyway. The rear door began to rise and I was feeling so proud of myself, having shown this gas-guzzler who was boss.

And then the van took off.

I stood there and watched this driver-less vehicle race down Fifth Avenue, a few blocks from my house. It was like something out of an episode of Get Smart.

I freaked, of course, and started chasing after the damn thing. The apartments and storefronts were all dark and there no people around.

I saw the marquee of the Alpine theater, and then I spotted the devil van swerving from one side of the street to the other, coming dangerously close to crashing into one of several parked cars.

Oh, my God, I inwardly scream, I'm gonna get sued!

The ghost van made a hard left at 68th Street and disappeared. As I got to the intersection a wacky looking guy driving something resembling a dune buggy came roaring up in the opposite direction on the sidewalk.

I got a look at this guy's wild, insane smile, as he blasted by me. I was confused for a second, thinking that somehow my vehicle had made a loop around the block.

Then I got angry, wondering why this jerk was so happy while I was so miserable. The nerve of that hump. And what's with the dune buggy in Brooklyn?

I've learned through therapy that you--the dreamer--are everything in the dream. All the people, even the inanimate objects, they are manifestations of you.

When I analyze this dream, a lot of things jump out at me. First, there's the feeling of confusion--not understanding how the remote works.

Then there's the fear of being left behind, abandoned, as the van races off without me. I'm losing control, a common theme in nightmares.

The van is another side of me, as it speeds along without any idea where its going. I feel that way often when I look at my career choices.

I feel a lot of these moments in my life where actually un-choices, where I let things happen to me, rather than take decisive action.

Give It Some Gas

And that nut in the dune buggy? I think that's another side of me, the side that wants to flaunt all the rules.

Notice the driving on the sidewalk. No good Catholic boy would do that. And this part of my personality wants to be happy, he wants to enjoy raising hell without feeling guilty or ashamed. That hardly sounds like me at all. At least not the daytime me.

I'm feeling uncertain about my future, what jobs I should apply for. Part of me says just take any job for now; you're unemployed, dummy, get on somebody's payroll and sort it out later.

But I've been doing that for so long, taking any kind of work "just for now." That's what it will say on my tombstone: Here Lies Rob...Just for Now.

Life is a finite affair and there are just so many jobs you can plug away at before the great baseball manager in the sky comes out to the mound and tells you to hit the eternal showers.

I need to find my dune buggy career, where I can drive on the sidewalk and not give a damn.

One place where I doubt I'll be applying is the gas company. A construction crew from Keyspan was working outside my house yesterday and they spend most of the day digging up the street and installing some new valve.

One of the workers came in to test the pilot lights on my range and oven and everything seemed to okay.

But I started getting this funny smell--or I thought I did--and when I found my smoke detector wasn't working, I went up to the hardware store to get a new battery.

As soon as I put the battery in, the thing started honking and beeping, telling me in it's own little annoying way that I should move to fresher air.

Lovely. I have to go out in a little while and now I was having a gas leak. So I did kind of a dumb thing. Well, not kind of, just straight up dumb. Instead of flagging down on the workers--who I thought had left--I called the gas company.

"We'll send somebody right over," the woman told me.

"When will that be?" I asked, ever the impatient.

"We're sending the fire department. How long does that take--five minutes?"

The fire department? Lady, I didn't want the fire department, I just wanted someone to make sure the gas was okay, that's all.

I went outside and found the workers were still there and none too pleased that I called the cavalry. Then I heard the sirens.

Sirens? What the hell was this, the Chicago fire? I looked up the block and I see two huge fire trucks rolling down my street. Oy...I could have used these guys in my dream to find my runaway van.

In fact the whole situation was running away from me, just like that goddamn van. (Who rented me that thing anyway? I'll never dream-patronize them again.) I was losing control, unable to stop this ridiculous situation.

A whole bunch of firefighters came into my house, with the helmets, boots, and the heavy coats, but nobody could find any trace of a gas leak.

I was a little nervous because the basement is in such abysmal condition--a potential fire hazard. Fortunately, they didn't seem to care.

The firefighters left and my neighbors got a show. The gas company guys were pretty grumpy even though I tried to apologize. I'm sorry, I panicked. The smell of leaking gas has that effect on me.

You see? I took decisive action and sparked a fiasco. I should take the next robot van out of town.

I skulked back into my house and hoped the workers would be gone by the time I had to leave.

My prayers were answered, praise the Lord. They were gone and I headed off on my appointed rounds.

But no vans this time; I took the subway.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Back For More

Man, I had a hell of a time last night.

I did a reprise of my solo show "Breathe With Me" at the People's Improv Theater last night and I had a blast.

I rocked, I rolled, I was the Loch Ness fucking Monster.

And the really incredible thing is that the rehearsals had gone so badly--even the most recent ones, where you think--you hope--you had gotten beyond the basic stupid mistakes.

But there I was, flubbing lines, using the wrong words, forgetting whole sections of the damn show--I was ready to jump on the next freight train out of town.

And to top it off, I came down with some kind of stomach bug, which I'm pretty sure was stress-related, because I feel better now--knock wood.

I was so angry with myself, wondering why in the hell I had taken this on. I don't have enough on my plate, I've got to contend with this nutty vanity project to boot?

Who wants to see some middle-aged bald guy from Brooklyn rant about the misery in his life? I wasn't sure I wanted to see this kind of spectacle and I was the freaking star.

The weather really sucked, too, along with the time of performance. Monday night at 9:30? Who the hell wants to come out at that time of night?

Then something interesting happened. Cheryl Smallman, who was doing her show, "Dreamless" on the same bill, had hired a tech person to take us through a rehearsal at the PIT theater a few hours before show time.

When I was on the actual stage, doing my show before two very real people--as opposed to screaming at my refrigerator like I had been doing for the past several weeks--everything came together.

I did the entire 30-minute show without once looking at my notes, which I had on a podium nearby. One day I'll go up there with no notes at all, but right now I'm still chicken.

What if I went blank up there on the stage and couldn't remember a word? This wasn't a silent movie, after all.

The rehearsal went so well I couldn't believe it. Cheryl was crying at the end--in the good way, and I actually shed some tears myself when I got to a part about my mother.

I decided I wouldn't let illness ruin all my hard work. The show really must go on and I thought that feeling rotten would in some way make me sharper, make me work harder, as I was starting the show in my own end zone, so to speak.

I don't recommend this as a regular strategy in the face of a difficult job, but I was hurting for some positive energy.

We had a few hours to kill before the show, so I got a turkey sandwich at a nearby deli (bleech!) and then I went over to the New York Sports Club on 23rd Street and Eighth to enjoy the sauna.

Only I didn't enjoy this particular sauna.

It started off innocently enough, with me sitting there in a towel minding my own business. Then I notice a guy near me scratching himself beneath his towel.

Hey, we've all been there. When you get an itch below the equator, you have to take care of it.

Steam Heat

But this wasn't an itch, or at least not that kind of itch. The movement began to look awfully familiar, rhythmic, you might say, and then another guy sitting next to him began doing the same thing.

Then the second guy let his towel fall back, exposing much more than I wanted to see, and starting pinching the first guy's nipple. I felt like I had wandered on to a porn movie set--in a towel.

Okay, now this is the part where I really needed an NFL referee to storm into the sauna, blow his whistle, throw down his flag, and nail these losers for unsportsmanlike conduct.

I'm not sure what hand signals he used for this kind of infraction...well, come to think of it, I've got an idea, but I'd really rather not think about it. Just as long as he put a stop to these bizarre goings-on.

Unfortunately, there's never a ref around when you need one, so I sat there squirming and wondering what the hell I should do.

They both bigger than me--physically, I mean; I wasn't terribly impressed with their equipment...even though I was trying not to look.

I don't know if the staff would have been terribly sympathetic if I told them what was going on in the sauna. This is Chelsea, after all, not Poughkeepsie.

Two other men were in the sauna and they kind of looked at the yankees and they kind of didn't, but no one complained.

Let me be clear: I don't give a rat's ass about your sexual orientation. I care about how people conduct themselves in public.

You feel the urge, good for you. Just get a goddamn room and do whatever the hell you want. When I take a sauna, I want a sauna, not an orgy. Any questions?

I was feeling so good from the rehearsal, that I looked to the ceiling, and said to myself, Lord, I know you want me to witness this activity for a reason. I just don't know what it is, so if you feel like cluing me in, now would be a great time. I'll even take notes.

I didn't get an answer, so I finally bailed, showered and got the hell out of there.

I was annoyed, repulsed, and more than a little worried that I'd be in the middle of my show when an image of the Dong Brothers would pop into my brain and derail my train of thought.

God bless 'em, I thought. Do what you want. But if you come to my show, you keep the zippers closed.

I went back to the PIT, met up with Cheryl again, and took a seat. A young man who presumably worked for the PIT was watching an episode of "Firefly" on his computer and I started watching over his shoulder.

I was going on second, like I did the last time, so I sat backstage by myself, listening to Cheryl's show, shadowboxing in front of the mirror and trying not to have a nervous breakdown.

Cheryl finished,came backstage, and gave me a desperately needed hug. Then the strains of Smokey Robinson singing What's So Good About Goodbye? came on and the announcer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Lenihan..."

As I got into the story, I really felt like I was acting, not just reciting. I was shouting and moving around the stage like a Superball fired out of a cannon. I went nuts.

I'm kind of repressed, but I realized that there is no sense holding back anything once you're on stage. People don't pay to see someone look down at his shoes. They want a show.

My best bud Hank had given me the greatest advice early on, when I agreed to do my show a second time.

I had thought about writing a totally new piece, but Hank said I should do "Breathe With Me" once again and "really inhabit the character" this time out.

That was such a great of way of putting it. Inhabit the character--even it's about my life, I'm still a character in this story, and I have to make him believable.

I complain so much about all the work that goes into these shows, but once I start doing it, I really love it.

Where else can you run your mouth for 30 minutes, talk about your personal problems, and generally piss and moan without someone interrupting you?

I used one prop, a key on a very attractive key chain from Royal Bank of New York, which I don't believe exists anymore.

It was supposed to be the key to my family's house and the only reason was because I kept messing the line regarding the key.

I figured if I held a real key in my hand I'd get by this particular part without a mistake. And I did.

I was three-quarters of the way through the show when I became convinced I had forgotten something. I thought about looking over at my outline, but it would have been so obvious, so mood-killing, I just couldn't do it.

It's too late, I shouted at myself, just keep going.

It turned out that I hadn't forgotten anything, that I covered all the scenes without checking the cheat sheet once.

And I'm happy to say I got through my performance without thinking of my sauna companions.

One of the more satisfying moments came when people in Cheryl's group came up to me and praised my work. It's great to hear from your own peeps, of course, but when strangers give you the thumbs up, you know you're on the right track.

Big thanks to Hank and Paula, my blogging amigos Eleanor of Creative Times and Petra from Bed-Stuy Blog, and Jason from MeetinNewYork.

You all gave me a great jolt of confidence just by showing up.

Now I have to go back to looking for work...