Saturday, June 28, 2008

To Him We Say, 'Well Done'

For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, 'It might have been.'
--John Greenleaf Whittier

I missed a big opportunity on Sunday and it’s still bothering me now, nearly a week a later.

No, it wasn’t a woman, not this time anyway. This was something more personal, if that’s possible.

I was riding on the N train to Manhattan when this elderly African-American couple got on board at Pacific Street.

I had to pull my leg out of the woman’s way so they could sit down next to me and for a second I thought she was giving me a dirty look.

My primal territorial alarm switched on and I started thinking who the hell she was giving me dirty looks when I realized how ridiculous I sounded even though no on could hear me.

I’m sorry to say so, but this is how my father often reacted to people, only he spoke up and usually pissed people off.

And I've put up with some many real slights and insults over the years because I was desperate to be liked, or I was trying to be a good sport--whatever that means--that I think now I've got a chip on my shoulder the size of a giant redwood.

I realized that this is not a good way to go through life, so I put my nose in the Sunday Times and forgot all about the elderly couple.

It wasn’t until I was getting off at Union Square that I noticed the man—the husband, I’ll assume—was wearing a cap reading “World War II Veteran.”

My father got me one of those caps years ago and I think—I hope—I still have it someplace around the house.

It’s fun to see people squint at the hat and that look at me to see if I actually old enough to have taken on the Nazis.

I felt like I should say something to this man. I wanted to tell him that my father also fought in World War II, ask him about his service, or if nothing else, just give a thumbs-up, acknowledging his time in the army.

The couple was also getting off at the same stop and I told myself, here, you’ve got a great opportunity to talk to him. But I said nothing.

They took a seat on one of the benches to wait for the local and while I had places to go, I wasn’t on any fixed schedule. I could have stood there and chatted with them for an hour if I felt like it. But I kept walking.

I stopped halfway up the stairs and looked back at them, I heard my mother’s voice in my head saying, “go talk to the man, go talk to the man,” like she did when I was a child to make me more out-going.

But I didn’t listen to that little voice. I turned and I walked out of the station and I regret it so much now.

I’m sure this man would have appreciated some acknowledgment of his days as a soldier. He is wearing the hat, for God’s sake. He must know people—normal people, that is—will ask him about it.

In a time when some many people can’t find Europe on a map, or have any knowledge of their country’s history, I’m certain this gentleman wouldn’t have minded a little recognition.

The Long Goodbye

This world has changed so much since he want to war and I wonder how he feels about the direction of country for which he risked his life.

And the fact that he was African American was important because I’ve never had the chance to talk to a black World War II vet. I would’ve gotten a different point of view on the war I’ve heard so much about when I was growing up.

There was so much I could have gotten, so much I could have learned from talking to that man. I could have told him about my father and maybe we could have swapped war stories, only I would have to retell my father’s stories.

He could have told me his whole story, about where he served, what he did after the war. I could have talked to this man all day if I wanted to, but I couldn’t bring myself to approach him.

It’s been a lifelong problem of mine, failing to go for things I want. God knows I still have enough trouble approaching women—at least when I’m sober.

What was there to fear of this man, though? Rejection? If he didn’t want to talk, I would have turned on my heel and walked out of the station, which was what I wound up doing anyway.

It’s funny how I’ve co-opted my father’s war experiences. There are times when I’ve felt such real hatred for the man, but no matter how angry I was, I could always get a crowd around me when I started repeating his war stories.

It’s the best of both worlds, I guess, war stories, without going to war.

I think of the troubles I had with my father, with the troubles I continue to have with him, even 18 months after his death.

We’ve often wondered if a lot of the problems he had might have stemmed from the war, even though no one said anything about PTSD back then.

I wish I had spoken to that man on the subway, but the only I can do is try to learn from my mistake and show that respect to that next veteran I meet.

Despite what you hear, old soldiers really do die and once they’re gone, it’s too late to salute them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Car Boom!

We had a little bit of Baghdad come to Bay Ridge last night after a car blew up around the corner from my home.

It was around 11:30 pm as I was getting ready for bed. I had recently come home from my adult swimming class—the last one of an 8 week program—when I heard a massive thud, as if something had actually struck the house.

I looked outside, saw nothing and went to bed. I was just getting comfortable when I heard sirens heading in my direction and a low flying airplane buzzing over my roof.

As it turned out, the airplane had nothing to do with the car explosion; it was just a matter of some rather funky timing.

But that sound made me shudder as I recalled standing across the street from the Trade Center on September 11. Ever since then, I always tense up when a plane comes in too low.

I got out of bed, looked out the front door and saw several people on the block had come out of their homes, too. Then I saw a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky from the next block.

“Oh my God,” I shouted, convinced a small plane had crashed in Lief Erickson Park.

It was almost midnight, I was tired, and I had to work the next day, but I wanted to know what the hell was going on. After five years as a police reporter, it's hard to shake the urge to chase after fire engines.

I stopped a guy coming up the block who told me a car exploded on 67th Street.

I kept walking as other people fell into step around me. I realized that although we live on the same block, I barely recognized any of these people, so saw calling them “neighbors” feels like a stretch. There’s nothing like a disaster to get people together.

I turned on to Sixth Avenue and the smell of burning rubber hit me, just like the old days on the Pocono Record. It's usually the smell of a fire that reaches you first before you actually see anything.

People were on the corner staring into the park and when I reached 67th Street, I saw the firefighters hosing down the burned-out frame of an SUV. An ambulance was pulling away without the sirens going, so I assumed no one had been injured.

A car parked behind the SUV looked like it had taken a beating and the firefighters were trying to push it back out of their way. I used to play ball in this park, which was ravaged during last year’s tornado. The place is having a run of bad luck lately.

I walked up to a guy leaning against a No Parking sign and asked him what was going on.

“That car got blown up,” he said. “I saw the whole thing. I saw a young guy, like a Russian or something in a blue warm-up suit running away from the car just as it blew. He looked at me and kind of smiled and then he kept running. I followed him for about half-a-block, but I don’t want to get involved.”

As he spoke, the man stressed that he didn’t want to get involved, but he kept telling me more details.

“If someone had been injured,” he said, “then I would tell the marshals. But this is a fucking insurance job. I don’t want to get involved. What if they catch the guy? Then I’ll have to go to court. I don’t want to get involved…”

We talked a little while longer and then went our separate ways.

I was thinking the man should give the description to the police, but I’m not the one to be giving civics lessons.

What if this was a gangster’s beef or some other kind of scam? Who needs to get wrapped up in that kind of grief over an SUV?

Yes, I should have told the man to contact the police, but I didn’t want to get involved.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hello, You Must Be Going

I didn’t make it to my parents’ grave on Father’s Day.
My sister and I had planned to go out there in the afternoon, but it looked like rain, so we scrubbed the trip. And then, of course, the skies cleared up.

I don’t like going out there because I find it depressing and I don’t believe it means much to stand over a patch a ground, but to be honest, it’s also a long trip and I don’t like driving around the city unless it’s absolutely necessary.

My Uncle Joe in L.A., my father’s brother, understood the situation.

“You go pretty often at first,” he said, “and then gradually you go less and less frequently until you stop.”

I hate to admit to that, but I think he's right. And I find that a bit depressing.

Father’s Day was just another day for me and that feels wrong somehow, even though I’m not a father myself and I no longer have a father.

I think there’s some regret about not having children combined with some bad memories and lingering resentment toward my father that has the staying power of nuclear waste.

I caught myself wondering why things had gotten so bad with my father, but I stopped myself. It’s too late for that and all the pondering in the world won’t change anything.

I saw a man I grew up with out with his family the other day. Actually, I heard him first, yelling at his son.

I don’t know what the kid did to get in trouble but he ticked off my friend pretty seriously. I remember this guy as a child himself, getting bawled out by his old man. And now he’s taken his father’s place.

Maybe that’s what I’ve been trying to avoid by not getting married. I don’t want to wind up yelling at my kids.

This has been a week of missed connections. I missed my train coming home two nights running.

On Monday I was bounding down the stairs while two people with seeing eyes dogs were coming up.

I had some reservations about knocking over blind people to catch a train, so I slowed down and made it to the platform just in time for the doors to close in my face.

I had to wait for two B trains to come and go and the next D train to pull into the station was packed—as opposed to the one I had missed, which had enough empty space for a game of handball.

To make things worse, I apparently have a stalker, someone who likes me in a way I could never like her, and she came walking in the train behind me as I got on board.

"Fancy meeting you here," she said.

Yes, fancy that. Nothing personal, dear, but I really wish I could have missed this connection. Actually, that's about as personal as you can get.

Token Gesture

My stalker friend rode all the way with me to Brooklyn and it had to be one of the longest subway rides of my life. And then she stood on the platform with me at 36th Street, even though she told she had planned on walking home from there.

I jumped on the N train as soon as it pulled into the station, but at that point I was so fed up I would have jumped on the Lusitania just to get free.

I know I should have more compassion. I've been in her situation plenty of times, where I care for someone who will never return my affection. But I was tired.

The following night two transit workers lugging trash bags were coming up the stairs, and they, too, slowed me down just enough to miss the train. I was half-expecting for the conductor to moon me as he went by, but then I’ve always had a little problem with paranoia.

I almost had a date this weekend, which is like almost winning the lottery and equally frustrating. I had met Molly Malone—not her real name, but she is from Ireland—at my local butcher shop during a recent Saturday morning shopping run.

We had a nice chat over a refrigerator case full of chop meat and sausages, but I lost my nerve and didn’t ask for her phone number. Another missed opportunity, I thought, but then the next time I went in there, the cashier told me that Molly had been asking about me.

Excellent, I said, and I gave the cashier my card—I really do have one, you know—and asked that she pass it on to Molly. The next time I go in there and Molly has left her number for me—she feels awkward calling a guy.

Hey, I’m all right with that. You want to do this old school, no problem.

I banged out her digits, we had another nice conversation, and we make tentative plans to get together in the hood, meaning Bay Ridge.

I left a message for her suggesting we get together Saturday and when I called Friday to follow up, she thanked me but said she doesn’t want to date anyone right now.

Now how did I fuck this one up? I didn’t even go out with this woman, damn it, and already she’s cutting me lose. Why did she make me go through that penguin dance just to give me the heave-ho?

My relationships are getting shorter and shorter. I’ve heard of speed-dating, but this is speed-dumping. I'm worried a woman I’ve seen before in my life will walk up to me on the street, shout “you son-of-a-bitch!” and slap me across the face.

Before Molly, I had a semi-drunken make-out session with a woman in a bar in the Village who then turned around and gave me the “let’s be friends” routine two days later. She mentioned that she had a problem with my height, or my lack of it, to be more precise.

Well, she knew how tall I was—she had seen me. It’s not like on the Internet where you can say you’re hung like a giraffe, you’ve got hair like Trotsky, and you’ve got enough money to buy out Donald Trump.

This is the real world, damn it. I want to go back to the old days when I would go out with a woman and legitamately piss her off. Then she can dump me, but at least give me a chance to crash and burn on my own.

I know can do it, if they just give me a chance.

After the wreck of the Molly Malone, I went to the Rubin Museum on Friday night, had a few wines with my best bud Hank, and then hit on nearly every woman I saw. I wasn't rude or crass, just friendly and uninhibited for a change.

I mean, I even starting talking to a woman on the subway who was reading the Bible. We couldn't convert each other to our respective causes, but we had a nice chat and then went our separate ways.

I got one phone number from one lady I met at the Rubin--oh, the power of liquid courage.

Maybe I'll pull fast one and break up with her before I even call her. That'll fix her wagon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blogade is Coming!

Hear, ye, hear, ye, all you Brooklyn bloggers!

The incredible Brooklyn Blogade will be coming to Park Slope this Sunday, June 22.

Blogade is a monthly meet-up of bloggers from around our great borough, where people come together to talk, network, exchange ideas, kvetch, kibbitz, and generally shoot the breeze.

This month's event will be hosted by that famous man of letters from across the pond, Adrian Kinloch of Brit in Brooklyn. The emphasis will be on photoblogger, so shutterbugs take note.

The particulars:

What:Brooklyn Blogade: Picture This
When: Sunday, June 22, Noon
Where: Root Hill Cafe 4th Avenue and Carroll, Park Slope, Brooklyn

As a Bay Ridge native, I'd like to see some of the peeps from my neck of the urban woods show up at this shindig.

So don't just sit there in front of your keyboard. Haul on down to the Root Hill Cafe and introduce yourself to the funkiest bunch of bloggers you'll ever meet.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

See Spot Run

For more than four centuries, a massive storm called the Great Red Spot has raged on the planet Jupiter.

And I thought I was unstable.

I finally got my check from Jupiter this week—not the planet, of course, but a company by that name. I had interviewed with them back in March and had done a one-day tryout for them in hopes of getting a job.

Friends warned me not to do this,that these people were just using me. But I didn’t mind. I had done tryouts for other companies and it had always worked out fine.

You can show the editors what you can do and get a feel for the place and the kind of work you’ll be doing. And, if nothing else, you get some extra cash.

I had a good feeling about this company, I really did. The people seemed cool, the worked seemed manageable, and I even liked their location.

Well, I sure called that one wrong. As Fiorello Laguardia once said, “when I make a mistake, it’s a beaut.”

Let me go down the list: first the editor forgets I’m going in on the appointed day and asks me to come back the next day. Jackass back and forth from Brooklyn? Hey, no sweat; I was unemployed at the time. I had nothing else to do, right?

Then, after what I thought was a rather positive tryout and interview, they never told me that they hired someone else for the gig.

And finally, the never paid me the 300 bucks for the day I worked. I started making phone calls, and sending emails, asking about the money, which is something I really hate to do. I wasn't cut out to be a bill collector.

I was told they lost one of my income tax forms, so I completed another one and sent it in. And I heard nothing.

Weeks would go by and it would suddenly come to me—hey, those bastards never paid me. It was making me angrier and angrier—big surprise, right?—until I had my own Great Red Spot churning inside my head.

Those sons-of-a-bitches, I groused, they took advantage of me because I was out of work and they had no intention of paying me at all. They’re screwing me!

I really let this thing take over my life. I even thought about going to their office and demanding they give me my check on the spot, which is a good way to wind up in handcuffs.

When their accountant or bookkeeper or whatever the hell she is blew off my last email, I went nuts.

First I called the CEO in Darien, Conn., telling him how angry I was. Then I wrote a vicious email calling them unprofessional and saying their actions were loathsome (nice word, huh?).

"I can’t teach you integrity,” I wrote, “you either have it or you don’t.”

Yes, I actually wrote that. And then I threatened to haul them into small claims court if they didn’t pony up the dough by the end of the week.

I even went online to see about filing a suit over the Internet and I noted that small claims court convenes after 6:30 pm, which was good as it wouldn’t interfere with my job.

Have a Seat, Comrade

This is part of my trouble, this trapeze swing from one emotional extreme to the other. I'm either letting people walk all over me or biting their heads off if I even think they're looking at me strangely.

I go from Wally Cox to Kruschev banging his shoe at the UN.

I got a snippy response from the editor and then a receipt for a UPS shipment to my home. My check arrived two days later, meaning that they had no plans of paying me until I threatened them.

I thought I would feel vindicated or at least satisfied when I got paid, but I just felt lousy. I had gotten myself all aggravated for something that really wasn't that important.

I don’t like talking to people like that, and though I think they were unprofessional and rude, I didn’t help matters any by being rude in return or stomping around and furiously playing the victim.

They say you shouldn't burn your bridges, but in this case I nuked the bridge and took out most of the land on either side. In this day of rabid media consolidation, this act of anger could come back to haunt me.

I ran into a woman I used to date on the subway on Thursday. We chatted while the train crept and crawled downtown. We were told there was a stalled N train at 59th Street and a sick passenger on the D train at 36th Street.

These delays can make me very angry, but I happened to be standing next to a guy in a red shirt who cursed and fumed every time the train stopped in the tunnel.

“Fucking trains,” he muttered, “I hate these fucking trains.”

Somebody brushed against him at 59th Street and he mumbled “you do that again and I’ll break your fucking head!”

This guy was like my doppelganger. I was wondering if I could hire him to have a fit for me.

Instead of freaking out whenever any one of a million things pisses me off, I could just call this nutcase and he could blow a gasket in my name. It would do wonders for my blood pressure.

I hate to say this, but he sounded like me on one of my less than stellar days. I saw how awful it was to be around people like this, how toxic the atmosphere becomes when you’ve got someone determined to foul up the air.

I left my ex at 36th Street and started the struggle to get to work. No express trains were coming, so I got on the next local and went downtown.

A woman got on at Ninth Street holding a copy of The Power of Now, a self-help book I keep threatening to read. I wished I had it with me on the train because that's a large part of my problem. I carry a lot of anger from past around with me, like a camper lugging a backpack.

At Pacific Street I saw a well-dressed woman walking on the platform holding a hockey stick. Hmm, June, subway, lady with a hockey stick, yep, I’m in New York all right.
Maybe she used it to beat through the crowds. I was glad I wasn't carrying a hockey stick that morning.

I realized that when the ex and I broke up, she had told me that I was very impatient and I couldn’t argue.

As the commute became more and more difficult, I got angrier and angrier, and I started looking for my buddy in the red shirt, my own Great Red Spot, to start freaking out for me.

At DeKalb Avenue I saw a woman on the platform with a t-shirt reading “Bitchy is my middle name.” It was getting later and later and “Crabby” was becoming my middle name.

I finally got a B train and I was heading over the bridge. At one point I moved slightly and brushed against a woman reading a paperback.

She might have made a noise or said something, I’m not sure. All I know that by then my hostility level had gotten so high I was now my own doppelganger.

Screw you, lady, I mentally snarled as I leaned up against the door. You got a problem, you can kiss my--

Just then the train lurched and, since I had neglected to hold on to anything, I tumbled toward the paperback lady.

I shot my hand out at the last second, grabbed the overhead support and righted myself, wrenching my shoulder in the process. I felt like a first class idiot for being so far from the real world, away from the now.

See, I told myself, you were so busy getting pissed off you almost fell on your ass!

I got my money from Jupiter, but I haven’t escaped its gravitational pull or its turbulent atmosphere.

I just called my brother in California a little while ago and he reminded me that I still owed him $28.28 from our family vacation to Hawaii during Christmas week.

I am now writing out a check and addressing the envelope...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Crazy Like A Foxhole

I was walking through the Pacific Street subway station Thursday night when I passed this Hispanic man who was standing on the platform with a long wooden staff that was covered with clothespins and wire.

I had no idea what that thing was supposed to be and for a second I even though it might be a modern piece depicting man’s inhumanity to laundry or some other weighty topic.

I went a few more feet and then realized that this guy was a street vendor and the clothespins had been holding stuffed animals, or hats, or something of that nature.

The fact that he was down to nothing but clothespins indicated that he had a good day at the office.

I’m glad somebody’s doing well because after the Dow’s suicide leap on Friday, I’m a little nervous.

Earlier this week, I was riding home on the D train when we came to the Manhattan Bridge, my favorite part of the daily grind. It was a beautiful spring day and I spotted some bicycle riders on the pedestrian walkway making the same trip to Brooklyn.

I like to watch the bike riders and imagine what it’s like to be out there instead of crammed into a subway car. It looks like fun, or at least this portion of it does, when you’re over the water and the wind is blowing in your face.

And you don't have to buy gasoline at 4 bucks a gallon either.

Once you get off the bridge, though, you have to deal with traffic and cars, buses and trucks coming at you from all direction.

The train picked up speed and we left the bike riders behind. As we got to the other side of the bridge, the train came to a grinding halt.

I happened to look out the window just then and I saw a homeless man who had settled into a little alcove in the bridge's support section. It was the last place in the world I expected to see a human being.

He was huddled in there like a soldier hiding in a foxhole. In the daily battle for survival, this man was on the front lines.

I found myself staring at him until we locked eyes and I turned away. I’m so used to observing people from the train I never thought that they could look back.

When I was a reporter in the Poconos, the homeless people used to live under the bridges--as they do in a lot places. A bridge is an inviting form of shelter when you've got nothing else.

And while everybody else uses them to get from one place to another, others take root underneath them.

I once interviewed some men living under the bridge. I was a little nervous walking back there, but they turned out to be decent people.

"We're the homeless," one man with white hair and a full beard declared to me with a backhanded kind of pride.

I don’t know how the man I saw in the Manhattan Bridge came to be in this situation. But it makes you think, or at least it should. I think about how the stock market tanked on Friday, and how I keep reading or seeing stories on TV about food kitchens that are running of food.

I saw a story on the news last week about one of these food kitchens in the south, where so many of the people going there never thought they would be in such a situation in their lives.

One woman stood on line with her young daughter and began crying, describing how hard it was to be forced to ask for food in front of her child.

Closer to home, Crain’s New York Business had a story about Hanson Place United Methodist Church food pantry turning away people because there was no food.

The scariest thing we do in my adult swimming class is practice in the deep end of the pool.

Even with a flotation belt strapped around your waist, you get nervous as your feet struggle to touch the bottom, though logically, of course, you know that its impossible to reach that far.

I think even people on dry land are stretching, trying to reach the bottom.

Job losses jumped on Friday and this, combined with spiraling oil prices makes me nervous. I’m not getting any younger and being a fairly new hire, I could be the first to go if things go sour at the office.

It disturbs me that after all these years as an alleged adult, I have yet to find a job that really offers me a good fit. Every position I've had since I graduated from college has been temporary in my way of thinking--just for now.

I don't want to think about losing my job right now, no matter how much I complain about it, I thank God I have it.

If the worst happens, I don't know. Maybe I’ll be out there selling stuffed animals to passersby and I’ll be grateful when I come home with nothing but clothespins.

And I think about that man I saw in the bridge and I wonder if there’s enough room in his foxhole for two.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Win One For the Zipper

I was waiting for the light to change at the corner of Carmine and Bleeker streets the other night when a woman dashed into in the path of an elderly Asian man on a bicycle.

"Where you look?" the old man shouted as he hit the brakes and took evasive action.

"You're one to talk," a young man standing next to me yelled at the bicyclist, upholding the time-honored New York practice of kibbitzing.

Still, the old timer had a point, as well as the right of way.

I remember in grammar school that if someone ever said "you're losing altitude," you would immediately look down, because this a warning that your fly was open.

I had a pair of pants in college with a faulty zipper that would open without warning if you turned in a certain way. And it wouldn't just open, it would dive bomb toward your ankles like an elevator going to the ground floor in a fire drill.

It was like some kind of escape hatch. I suppose if you really were a liar, liar, and your pants really were on fire, you'd want to get out of them as quickly as possible.

This happened to me one time when I was talking to one of my English professors. I was leaning against the wall with both hands in my pocket when I shifted in one direction and zip! my fly flew straight down.

I don't know if my professor noticed this sartorial suicide leap or if he was just too polite to mention it. Either way I did get an "A" in the course, so I guess that's all that matters.

Whenever someone told my father that he was losing altitude, he always joke, "no wonder all the women I met today were applauding." Nice one, pop.

I had different kind of zipper problem on Friday. Instead of losing altitude, my fly went as high as it could go and refused to come down. My landing gear was stuck.

The fly on these pants has always given me some minor trouble, but a little tugging normally did the trick--until Friday, that is, when it seemed as if some evil pixie held welded the damn thing shut.

The thing that really galls me is that this pair of pants was my second choice. I already had another pair of pants on Friday morning, but I thought they looked a little sloppy and reached into my closet for the one with the busted zipper.

Of course I was having some minor stomach trouble that day which forced me to hit the men's room with a disturbing frequency. Of course I had theater tickets for that evening. Of course I was losing my mind.

Angry as I was, I did have enough presence of mind to refrain from going completely nuts--like I usually do--and tearing the zipper and the pants to pieces. I knew brute force would not help me.

I went into the men's room and put a little liquid soap on the offending fly. (I did this is the stall, of course, lest anyone get a really wrong idea.) No luck. The zipper was not budging.

Who Wears the Pants?

I thought about trying to find a tailor near my office, but tailors aren't as plentiful as they used to be. Clothing today is made to be thrown out, not repaired.

And this zipper was so decisively closed that I was more in need of Houdini than anyone from Savile Row.

I considered going to a clothing store and just buying new pants. What the hell? Payday is next week anyway.

I didn't either and over the course of the day, I taught myself to shimmy and wriggle like a snake shedding its old skin. I was getting so good at this I started thinking about a second career at Chippendale's.

This thing was like a male chastity belt and I thought of a woman I had seen on the subway after work on Monday. She caught my eye when she got on the D train at my station at West Fourth Street.

She looked so...good, damn it. Attractive, well dressed. She had a label on her bag reading "Trust is the only currency." This is very true, unless, of course, you have to buy a new pair of pants. Then you better have cash or plastic.

I was looking at this woman I got into the internal debate I've been having ever since puberty. Talk to her. No, she'll Mace me. No, she won't, you big weenie. Hey, I'm not a big weenie--

I've been shot down so many times in my life I've lost my fear of heights. But it's awfully hard to do the walk of shame if you're riding over the Manhattan Bridge in a crowded subway car.

One wrong step and you'll really be losing altitude. And you won't get it back.

I put her out of my mind when I got off at 36th Street and caught the N to 59th, one stop short of my station. And there I was, waiting on the local, when I happened to look over my shoulder and there she was, the trust lady.

All right, I thought. She probably lives in the neighborhood. You could start talking to her about any number of things.

The R train was pulling into the station and all the weary commuters were approaching the doors. Great, I'll stand next to her on the train and start a conversation.

And that's when I ran out of trust. This young woman turned away, walked down to the other end of the car, and boarded the train there.

Was that because of me? Was I leering at her? Maybe she should have shouted "where you look?" at me. Was I losing altitude? If so, how come she didn't start applauding?

Jesus, lady, I know I'm no Brad Pitt, but I can't be that ugly. Is it the shaved head? Hell, Mr. Clean has a shaved head and you won't run away from him. What about Telly Savalas and Yul Brenner? Would you run away from Kojak or the King?

If I had the busted zipper pants on that day, I could have told this lady that she had nothing to worry about. Then we could sing "Getting to Know You" and reenact the "Shall We Dance" scene on the subway platform.

Maybe I'm paranoid (you think?!?). Perhaps this woman just wanted to go to a less crowded part of the car. Maybe so, but if trust is the only currency, it looks like I'm in Chapter 11.

I took the pants to my cleaner yesterday and the woman behind the counter advised me to replace the damn zipper entirely.

It'll cost me five bucks, but I think that's reasonable. It'll beat doing the hippy-hippy shake every time I go to the can.