Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Wonderful World

I was caught in the middle of an international incident last week, but at least it was close to home.

In fact, it was my home, my backyard, to be exact, right outside my bedroom window.

I woke up hearing voices, which isn’t terribly surprising for me, but these particular voices were outside my head this time. And they were speaking Chinese.

That’s not shock either, since my neighbors on either side of me are Chinese—along with half the block—and when I looked out the window, it seemed like half the block was out there, with one man cementing a weak spot in the fence and three women hanging around him apparently telling him what to do.

Some of my friends are surprised when I tell them about this, but I have absolutely no problem with these folks walking around my backyard.

I’m not some shotgun-toting survivalist who’s going to charge down the alley screaming “git off’n mah propahrtee, yuh dang heathens!

These are lovely people: kind, friendly, and above all—praise Jesus!—they’re quiet. When I hear all the horrible neighbor horror stories from friends and family, I thank God I have these folks around me.

Of course if I were to go into someone else’s backyard to do some construction work, I might be tempted to touch base with the property owner before going ahead and doing the job, but hey, that’s just me.

These people know I live alone, and the one elderly lady next door—someday I will actually find out her name—is very helpful to me in so many ways.

And to be honest, since I live alone and my family’s house is so bloody empty, I really don’t mind hearing human voices around the place, even if they aren’t speaking English.

I went outside to say my hellos and got pulled into some kind of conversation. It seemed they were all talking to me at once, gesturing in several directions before everybody had a big laugh, except me.

It’s was quite a scene, really, but I was having fun.

One woman was talking to me and pointing to my neighbor-buddy, apparently telling me what a nice lady she is, but I already know that.

She was great when my father was ill and one time when he came home from a hospital stay, she walked up to me and tried to find out how he was doing.

Apparently, she wasn't happy with my answer, so she just up and walked into our house. Again, I don't mind, but I think if she had gotten a glimpse of my father in his underwear she would have come out of the house a hell of a lot faster than she went it.

Thankfully, my father had a his pants on and he and the lady had a nice "chat" about his health.

This woman is always telling me—gesturing, actually—about what trash goes into what can and when I should take it out. I’m glad one of us knows what to do.

Trash seems to be a bit of an obsession with her and she could probably get a job with the Sanitation Department as some kind of Asian community liaison.

She's also a fine gardener. Not too long ago, she went into my garden and trimmed out a lengthy patch of weeds that bordered her fence.


I’ve been having such trouble getting those weeds out of there. I pull some out, they grow back twice as fast--like weeds!--and the place looks like the Addams Family house—except for that patch where my neighbor did her magic.

The weeds still haven’t grown back there and I suspect they’re afraid of her.

The lady’s granddaughter came out at one point to help with the translation.I commented on her grandmother's weeding abilities and asked her to tell me her secret so I could finish the rest of the garden. She said something to her granddaughter, who turned to me.

“She wants to do it for you,” the young woman said.

“No, no,” I weakly protested. “I can’t have her doing that.”

God, what a liar I am. Of course, I can have her do that. I hate weeding and I know that this lady would do a fantastic job. But I do have something vaguely resembling a conscience and I was able to talk her out of it—much to my regret.

I went back to bed for a little while and thought how much this neighborhood has changed, from a Norwegian stronghold to its current mix of Chinese people down from 8th Avenue in Sunset Park, to the Arabs who occupy so much of Fifth Avenue.

When I was growing up, Bay Ridge was so aggressively white; everybody spoke English and their families had been in this country for generations.

I was in a local store during my regular Saturday shopping routine and one of the employees complained about all the Russians in Bensonhurst.

“We’re the minority now,” he said, without bothering to explain who “we” was.

There are some days when I feel the way man does, when it feels like there are too many of them and so few of me, when the melting pot makes my blood boil and the gorgeous mosaic looks more like a graffiti-scarred subway.

Take that rude little brat that cut in the line at the discount store today.

Yes, he happened to be Arabic, but I did my damnedest not to notice that, even though a part of my brain was growling about "these people..."

He could have been any race or nationality. And wasn't I really annoyed because I didn't speak up and put him in his place?

On the bright side, the store opened up another line and I quickly cut ahead of the little weasel. I'm pretty quick for an old bastard.

But I try to remember my grandmother, who came over here from Italy and the scorn she must have faced from the “we” who considered her one of “them.”

Recent projections indicate that the days of Caucasians as the majority are fading fast, so the state of "we" and "them" is going to change.

I guess I can live with that and given the abuse that the earth is going through, I don't think it's going to matter much; it's kind of like have a first class seat on a doomed airplane. It's just going to "us" and we're going to be screwed.

There were all sorts of “we” at Shore Road the other week as I took my place under a shady tree near 79th Street. The day started with as Asian group of young people enjoying some kind of event, complete with a portable sound system.

They left and a short time later, a crowd of Hispanic people set up a barbecue in the same place. As they were busy cooking, an Arabic family sat down near me and set up a late day picnic.

I had to laugh to see all these different people--Arabs, Hispanics and Asians—in Bay Ridge, of all places. Now if we could just get them to party all together, what a wonderful world it would be.

I was walking on Fifth Avenue the other day when I went by an Arabic woman with three little kids in tow.

As I headed for the corner I saw by a Hispanic woman and her four kids coming toward me from the opposite direction.

You wouldn’t have seen either one of these families on Fifth Avenue when I was a kid and I felt compelled to turn around and look as the two groups approached each other.

I watched as they both moved to aside to make room and as they did, a white woman in her late fifties managed to squeeze in the spot between them, so that for a split second the three distinctive groups were occupying the same latitude.

And…nothing happened. The world didn’t explode, the universe didn’t cave in on itself.

Everybody survived and went their separate ways, including me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

History in the Making

This just in from the Associated Press...

Barack Obama swept to the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday night, a transforming triumph that made him the first black American to lead a major party into the fall campaign for the White House.

Thousands of national convention delegates stood and cheered as they made history.

I haven't been watching the Democratic convention much this time around and I've been doing my best to avoid the punditry and the mainstream media coverage, which are getting harder and harder to tell apart.

However, from the little I heard on National Public Radio each morning it sounded as if the Democrats were doing their best to shoot themselves in their collective foot.

In other words, they were being Democrats.

So I take comfort in this moment and I salute Hillary Clinton for stepping aside. I keep hearing all this talk about angry Clinton supporters who feel she was cheated out of her day in the sun.

Well, you know something? I was a Clinton supporter. I voted for her in the New York primary and I was all set to vote for her in November.

But it didn't work out that way. And I want to say here and now that she took all sorts of abuse because she was a woman and it was reprehensible.

I felt badly for her, but I want my party to win--for a change. I don't believe these liars who claim that they are so upset that Hillary didn't get the nod that they're going to vote for McCain.

As the kids like to say...WTF?!? If you believe that, then you're not a Democrat, you never were a Democrat, and you will never be a Democrat.

Insane McCain is Bush's cranky old uncle and if you vote for this psycho with his bomb-bomb-bomb Iran and his drill here, drill now then please do us real Democrats a favor and register with the GOP.

You want tax cuts for the rich? You want the environment pillaged? You want an endless war? Then vote for McCain because that's what you'll get.

I have some hope now, but the race is still too tight and I'm afraid that it's largely a matter of...race, as in black and white. Check this out from the same AP story:

"A lot of white workers ... and quite frankly a lot of union members believe he's the wrong race," AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka told a breakfast meeting of Michigan delegates.

Wrong race? I go back to my previous remark of...WTF!?! I don't give a rat's ass if the guy is purple, if he's running against the rancid, hateful politics of the Republican Party, then, by God, he's got my vote.

I used to get angry when I heard African-Americans say that the U.S. is a racist country. No way, I thought. Sure, we've got some problems, but we've made such tremendous gains. How could you possibly think my country is racist?

Now I know what those folks were talking about. If you're going to let race get in the way of putting a Democrat in the White House, well, guess what? You're a racist! And you ain't no Democrat.

I'm thinking of Jack Nicholson's line in Batman, when as the Joker, he shouts "this town needs an enema!"

The whole country needs the enema to clear out eight years of Bushco crap. Please, for Christ's sake, don't let the color of a man's skin blind you to what he has in his heart.

We're a better country, a better people, than that. Now let's prove it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gamel Ride

Gamel Mohammed, you’re on your own.

For the last week or so, I’ve been getting robot phone messages at home from a collection agency looking for a certain individual named, yes, that’s right, Gamel Mohammed.

Every night I’d come home, pick up the phone and hear that rapid beep-beep-beep alert announcing that there was a message for me. Only it wasn’t for me, it was for Gamel Mohammed.

The caller—if you want to call her that—was actually a machine, a female android monotone announcing that “this is a call for…Gamel Mohammed…about an outstanding bill.”

Even though she stopped to insert the person’s—victim’s—name in that clunky style, the android lady sounded so official, so sure of herself, that I was often tempted to check my driver’s license to make sure that I wasn’t…Gamel Mohammed.

“If you are not…Gamel Mohammed…please hang up the phone.”

I always took umbrage at that line, partially because I like the word “umbrage,” but mostly because I don’t like some soulless cyborg telling me what to do with my own goddamn phone in my own goddamn house.

“By remaining on the line, you are acknowledging that you are…Gamel Mohammed.”

Says who? How legally binding is this declaration anyway? It sounds more like a confession than an acknowledgment.

Am I now Gamel Mohammed forever and ever amen, until the swallows return to Capistrano and hell freezes over simply because I held on to the phone for an extra couple of seconds?

So I have to assume the guy’s debt, put up with his obnoxious in-laws, and deal with his crazy ex-wife, assuming he’s like most people I know and actually has a crazy ex-wife?

And how did these bastards get my number in the first place?

I remember the good old days when bill collectors used to call in person, none of this computerized crap. There was always a living, breathing individual on the other end of the line…more or less.

They called our house more than a few times when I was growing up and one time my mom, a very patient, kind woman on most days of the week, surprised me when she slammed the phone down on one caller after the woman said that my mother had “lied” on an application.

“There’s a law against what you people are doing,” she shouted at another one. “I don’t have to put up with this.”

My father never held back his anger at bill collectors or anybody else for that matter. The old man always thought anger was something to be shared, just so long as he was the one doing the sharing.

“Hey, pal, you can kiss my ass in Macy’s window!” he thundered at one hapless caller. “Why don’t you get a job as a pimp?”

I don’t know how my dad would have handled these modern mechanical shylocks, which would not be intimated by his shouted or offended by his words.

I’m assuming this Gamel Mohammed is a real person, but who knows? Maybe some con artist came up with that name, pulled some kind of scam and then hit the bricks, leaving the bogus handle and my phone number behind.

Gamel’s not bad, but I always get a kick out of the sender names on some of these spam e-mails, usually the ones telling me I’ve won the Zambian National Lottery, which is quite a feat given the fact that I never entered the Zambian National Lottery—of Zambia--in the first place.

Fun and Gamel

I heard from a Mr. Praise Angelo recently who told me he had come across a dormant account “With A Huge Amount Of Money Belonging To A Deceased Customer” in the Republic of Benin and if I helped in some way, I—Praise Angelo!—was entitled to a pile of Beninian bucks.

I could use the money to pay off Gamel Mohammed’s bills and get the robot lady to stop calling my house.

“All I require from you,” Praise prays in his e-mail, “is your honest cooperation that you will not betray me at the end.”

You got it, Praise, or my name ain’t Gamel Mohammed.

Then I got a message from Yechezkel Barham, which sounds like something you say when toasting someone with a glass of wine, encouraging me to “enjoy Mind-blowing sex with your partner.”

I wonder if that involves someone kissing my ass in Macy's window. And if so, would it be around the holidays? That would be a real miracle on 34th Street.

My favorite fake name, however, is simple and direct: Archie Dexter. Don’t you like that? It sounds so cool, like a private eye, some film noir shamus sitting in his office late at night with a bottle of bourbon in his file cabinet and a .45 in his desk drawer.

I don’t recall what Archie was selling, but it doesn’t matter. I’m going to make him my alter ego.

I could drop his name whenever I have to pick up illicit funds from Western African banks or when the sex with my partner is less than mind-blowing.

“Wait, sweetheart, I’m not Rob. My name is Dexter, Archie Dexter, and I have to go now…”

My buddy Hank says Archie Dexter sounds like a pimp’s name, but then given my father’s opinion of pimps, it could also be a good name for a bill collector.

No matter. Archie Dexter, the pimp-private eye-bill collector is on the case. He’s going to track down this Gamel Mohammed joker, shake him down for the dough and, unless someone betrays him at the end, he’s going to mind-blowing sex with his partner in Benin.

After several days of the android messages, I decided to take the phone by the horns and put an end to this nonsense.

It seems Gamel was on the hook with an outfit called Oxford Consultants, which I don’t think is connected with that university in England.

But then you have never know, what with the cutbacks in education and the lack of billionaires from Benin making endowments.

I was packing a major attitude as I punched out the number. Who do these bastards think they are, harassing an honest, hard-working citizen in his own home?

I’m not Gamel, I never was Gamel, and I don’t want to be Gamel. How hard is that to understand? I want this gamel to end.

A young man answered the phone and I shifted into my super snippy tone, describing their incompetence and demanding they cease and desist forthwith. I was taking umbrage like it was going out of style.

“Oh,” the fellow said. “I see. Okay, I’ll take your name out of our system.”

That’s it? Press a few buttons and the case is closed? Archie Dexter doesn’t have to come down there and bust a few heads, smack around some yegs, or rough up a couple of chiselers?

That’s hardly a mind-blowing climax, you should forgive the sophomoric play on words.

So it looks like the Case of The Runaway Gamel has been solved. Gamel Mohammed is out of my life. Archie Dexter is officially retired and Praise Angelo is presumably trolling the internet in search of some other patsy so he begin the Benin scam all over again.

Yeah, it looks like everything is all wrapped up in one neat little package.

But what about…Yechezkel Barham?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wheel Man

I never did get to the cemetery this weekend.

And I didn't go to the veterinarian either. But I was ready to go either to place on a minute's notice--just like the Strategic Air Command.

My sister had asked me to drive over to the cemetery in Staten Island with her on Saturday to visit my mother's grave.

Friday was my mother's birthday and I miss her so much, even after all these years, that hardly a day goes by that I don't find myself getting teary-eyed over some memory of her.

But I don't like going to the cemetery. It's a long trip for starters, but even if I lived around the corner from the place I don't think I would visit that often. I honor my parents in my own way.

I also don't like driving in this city, where the roads seemed clogged with gang-bangers, speed demons, and road ragers just itching to assassinate anyone who commits the slightest moving violation.

I don't know--I just don't have my manhood so deeply entwined with driving. I think I'm better off, but I seem to be in the minority.

Also preying on my mind was the fact that I would be driving my sister's car and God forbid I got into an accident.

My sister doesn't like driving on highways or over bridges. That's her little phobia. I'm terrified of flying and during our family holiday in highway, she held my profusely sweating hand for the two 10-hour flights, which should earn her a commendation from the Knights of Columbus or some such organization.

A friend said we make a good team, my sister and I. If you put us together you might have one normal person.

I really wanted to do the right thing for my sister, so I tried to talk myself into making the cemetery ride.

Hell, I told myself, you're the guy who drove your family from Kona to Hilo on a dark, rainy night along a twisting, barrier-choked highway. You can handle a simple run to Staten freaking Island.

But then my sister's cat, who had been suffering from heart trouble, took a bad turn Saturday morning and she asked to postpone the cemetery trip until today.

Then she called me and asked if we could put the cemetery visit off and instead go to the animal hospital in Manhattan. I had done this run a couple of weeks ago without incident, except for the usual case of nerves.

This has been a very stressful time for my sister. Her cat is only five years old, but he's seriously ill.

He's never going to be the same and we have no idea how much more time my sister will have with him even after the treatment, money, and heart ache that she's invested into keeping him around.

So instead of paying our respects to the departed, we were going to take care of the sick. My sister brought the cat over to the hospital on Saturday night and I adjusted my mental GPS to the animal hospital coordinates for a Sunday morning run.

Then I went out Saturday night with best bud Hank for a Thai dinner and way too many beers.

We wound up on some place on Third Avenue, drinking Smithwick's and semi-watching the Olympics. I tried to forget that I had to make to drive to the vet's in the morning by...having more beers, strangely enough.

We had a lot of laughs, but I'm afraid the talk got down to the locker room level as we watched a scantily-clad young woman running the marathon through the streets of Beijing.

"I've watching this bitch for hours," I slurred. "When is she going to stop running?"

I'm not proud of this kind of sophomoric behavior--my mother taught me better--but I did keep my voice down. And I don't drink beer that often, or at least that much of it.

"This place is full of zombies," I muttered to Hank at regular intervals. "It's the living dead."

What's your pint?

I approached the one single woman in the place who told me she was waiting for some friends. I didn't believe her at first, but then two other women joined and I went back to talk to the whole bunch. You know I must have been drinking too much if I did something like that.

Two of the women had just seen The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2--or was it The Dark Knight? I'm not sure now. Damn beer.

Anyway, they told me that they had moved up to New York a few years ago from West Virginia.

I'm happy to say that despite my condition, I didn't make any incest or indoor plumbing jokes. The other woman ran a pet store in Queens. See, I do remember some of this stuff.

When I did them good night, one of the woman looked at me and said in a very serious tone, "get home safe." I didn't know what she meant at the time, but I do now.

I was plastered and she seemed generally concerned about my well-being. Oh, those country people are so neighborly.

I got this morning and my sister told me that she wasn't sure when we'd be going to the vet's so I went down to Shore Road, crashed beneath a shady tree and alternating between reading the Sunday paper and sleeping off my hangover.

Every time my cell phone rang I was ready to make the drive over to Manhattan and every time my sister told me to hold fast.

Finally, she called and said to forget it, that the hospital was holding the cat over night and...oy...she would have to take him to another vet on Monday. So we never did get over to the cemetery or the animal hospital. And I'm sorry to say that I felt a degree of relief.

I feel so badly for my sister. The stress is awful, but we don't have much choice with the ones we love, whether human or animal. My sister said some of this business was like visiting my mother during the last years of her life and I know what she means.

It's heart-breaking, but you either handle the misery or go off you nut. Not much of a choice when you think about it.

I was having some trouble sleeping lately and one particularly bad morning, when I went to work after something like three hours sleep, I got a seat on the R train and, as I always say, once my keester makes contact with that seat, I don't get up until it's absolutely necessary.

I thought I would get some sleep during the ride, but it never happened. I slipped into one those semi-conscious states where you're not really awake, not really asleep, and you don't feel rested at all.

Somewhere along the way a pregnant woman got on the train. I knew I should get up and give her my seat, I knew that this what my mother had taught me to do...but I didn't.

I sat there rationalizing, thinking that one of the other men around me could get up, that I give up my seat all the time, can't I sit this own out--literally?

If I had more sleep, I'd give her my chair, I thought, which even in the confines of my head sounded pretty awful.

Finally a woman on another bench did what I should have done: she gave the pregnant woman her seat and I kept my head down until the train reached my stop and crawled out of there feeling lower than a snake in a mine shaft.

For a guy trying to honor his mother's memory, I sure didn't do a good job that morning.

My office has since relocated to a building near City Hall, a relic dating back to 1911 that has more columns in the lobby than a Cecil B. DeMille movie set. If I see Victor Mature anywhere near the place I'm going to run like hell.

I have a shorter commute now and I take the R train in every day. I'm hoping I'll get to like my office better but judging by the crappy first week I had at the place, I'm not feeling too confident. Between the work and some of the people, well, I'll just say it wasn't a stellar beginning.

Mom, I know I didn't do the right thing that morning when I didn't get up and I promise you I'll do better.

I'm sorry I haven't come to see you in the cemetery for so long, but it hurts so much I'd rather replay my memories of you than stare down at a patch of earth and a stone.

I know you wanted us to be happy--that's all you ever wanted for us. And I'm trying my best, I really am, but it's been difficult. I feel like I'm being pulled in ten different directions and none of them is the right one.

But I'm going to keep trying for you because you are my best friend and always will be.

Happy birthday, Mom. I'd say that I wish you were here, but you already know that.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Numbered Days

The t-shirt I saw at Coney Island on Saturday summed it all up pretty succinctly: “The days of this society is numbered.”

Yes, they certainly is. And summer is disappearing pretty quickly, too.

Apparently this t-shirt is a hot item with…somebody, and the grammatical error is intentional, or at least I hope it are.

I headed out to Coney Island to enjoy the sun catch a band called, yes, really, “Witches in Bikinis,” which--witch?--was playing two sets on the boardwalk. (No "sets" jokes, please.)

I had met one of the members on the subway back in March. We had a nice chat, exchanged a few emails, and I promised to come see the group perform. With a name like that I could hardly resist. So Saturday was the day. (Whoa--I almost wrote "Satyrday." Oh, Sigmund, where are you?)

I hadn’t been to Coney Island since last August when I did a video for my old company, which I shall not mention by name because I don’t want to.

We did the video shoot just a few weeks after the tornado tore through Bay Ridge and did all kinds of hideous damage.

Should I say it? Okay, I’ll say it: I can’t believe it’s been a year already since the tornado.

There, I said it, and I’m ashamed.

The tornado was awful, obviously, but it helped me reconnect with my cousin in New Mexico after she heard the news and did a net search to see if we had been blown away, so I guess disaster does have its dividends. Uh...forget I said that.

I haven’t gone anywhere this summer and it felt good to break up my Saturday routine of food-shopping, dry cleaning pick-up and pondering on what the hell I’m going to do on Saturday night.

I rode the N train out to Stillwell Avenue, passing the time by playing peek-a-boo with an adorable 11-month-old girl named Sophie.

"You're playing one of her favorite games," her father told me.

Mine, too. Once I hit the boardwalk, I picked a bench and waited for the witches to show up.

Unfortunately there was this young thug sitting on a nearby bench who was trying to impress two young girl friends by harassing anyone walking by—as long as they were smaller than he was, of course.

So when he saw two men, who may or may not have been gay, this genius had to yell “faggot, faggot for life,” which I guess means something. An Asian person was greeted with the stunningly brilliant line, “are you looking for the Great Wall of China?”

And finally this gangsta wannabe vaulted over the fence and half-chased one pasty looking fellow, challenging him to a fight and calling him “white boy” and other such cheerful names.

So, I’m sharing this sunny day at the beach with a hulking racist homophobe. I hope his days is numbered, but I don’t think we could be so fortunate.

It must be something about the benches that brings out the worst in some people. I walked by a bench on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge the other day and this drunken lout refused to move his bag for a young Muslim woman.

“Go sit on the other one,” he snarled, and the woman walked away.

This kind of thing pisses me off, just like the butthole at Coney Island. On both occasions I had my usual bad-ass lord of justice fantasy where I see myself body slamming the offending idiot and give him a lesson he’ll never forget.

I wonder when I’ll stop doing this…the old age home, perhaps? When I’m on a walker and leering at the nurses?

Brace yourself for a shock, but the reality was much different: I got up and went to another bench at the tail end of the boardwalk.

But this business bothered me so much—too much, really—that I almost let this jerk spoil my day. I guess that’s what makes Coney Island what it is, good times, bad times, the garish and the serene all mixing together.

The moron and his crew were gone by the time I walked down to Deno’s where the Witches were going to do their thing in front of the Wonder Wheel.

I still had some time to kill, so I semi-stalked a rather tall woman in bikini who wouldn’t make eye contact with me, which is good because, while I don’t think she was a witch, she probably wasn’t the girl of my dreams either.

As she walked away, I saw a blind man, whom I believe was Arabic, tapping his cane around a trash can. He was completely disoriented and no one was helping him out.

“Do you need a hand, brother?” I said, sticking out my arm.

“Aren’t the stairs here?”

“Not quite.” He took my arm and I guided him to the stairs. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, my friend,” he said in some kind of accent and went his way.

I find there’s nothing like doing a good deed to wipe away the memory of some idiot’s behavior.

Everybody Out

The Witches in Bikinis actually is (are?) a good band, in addition to being kind of hot. They put on a good show and not just for the obvious reasons. They sing funny horror-tinged rock and roll numbers, dance around, and…they wear bikinis.

Did I mention the bikinis?

My subway acquaintance wasn’t there on Saturday; there were only three witches as opposed to the usual contingent of six to eight. But I wasn’t complaining.

And I’ll have you know that I was able to tear my eyes off the group for a few minutes and spot that t-shirt I told you about.

The days is no longer numbered at my company’s old office on Hudson Street—they’re gone. Friday was our last day there and on Monday we report to the new place on Broadway near City Hall.

I’m torn on this one because I love the Hudson Street area and after something like six years downtown I’m fed up with Wall Street. (I was going to use the Al Pacino Godfather III line about “they keep pulling me back,” but I’m pretty sick of it, so I won’t.)

But it will be a much easier commute as I will be spared the nightmare of shoe-horning my way on to the D train every morning. I’ll be closer to my gym and Trinity Church, which I have missed over these last several months.

I took a last walk around the Hudson Street area on Friday and went by the remains of Chumley’s on Bedford Street.

This was a former speakeasy that became a favorite hangout of William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neil, Willa Cather, and others. My cousin—the one now in New Mexico—first told me about this place, which retained its speakeasy atmosphere long after Prohibition was repealed.

I went back a few times and always said I’d go more often, but I just found out that last April—a few months before the Bay Ridge tornado—the place got hit by its own private tornado in the form of a major structural collapse.

There was a work crew there when I walked around the place, but I don’t know what’s coming next. It seems highly unlikely that Chumley’s, or at least the Chumley’s of old, will ever return.

I also ran out the clock on something I had been meaning to do at my Hudson Street office since I started working there since April. The head of security at the building is a former New York City police officer and a Bay Ridge native, though he lives upstate now.

We had a nice chat as he took my ID photo, discussing the changes in Bay Ridge and Brooklyn over the years.

I thought about asking this man to help me with a novel I’ve been “working” on—and off—for several presidential administrations now. The book lacks that kind of detail that can make a crime novel stand out.

I’ve tried approaching the NPYD directly and, oh, Christ, what’s the point? I got the kind of runaround that makes Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine look like basic English.

Every day I’d go into work with the idea of approaching this man. And every day I didn’t.

I kept losing my nerve, even though this really didn’t require nerve. It was a simple request: can you help me, yes or no? But I felt foolish, I felt like I didn’t have the right to bother this man with my stupid writer fantasies.

I was intimidated. This man had actually seen and done the kind of things I want to write about. Am I gangsta wannabe, fantasizing about the cops and robbers, but never getting close to the action?

I hate to say this, but I was behaving the way I do sometimes when I want to ask a woman for a date.

I have feeling of unworthiness and this terror of “looking stupid” when I ask for something--whatever the hell that means in this twisted society where people insult each other from park benches.

Now, he might have not have able to help me. I’m looking for an expert in organized crime and if he didn’t have that expertise, well, there you are.

But I’ll never know if he could have helped me, or perhaps recommended someone else who could me. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask.

So now I've got to find another expert and see if I can finish this goddamn book.

The days of this novel isn’t number, they go on and on, unlike life which has annoying way of coming to an end.

It just seems like I make progress in overcoming my shyness and inhibitions, where I actually ask for something I want, only for something like this to happen.

Kind of like Al Pacino in Godfather III, when he said—“just when I think—”

--oh, never mind…

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Copy Cat

I’m not really a monster, you know. I’m just a little stressed.

I feel the need to defend myself against the monster charge given some of my recent behavior. I mean very recent, not the last 50 years.

I had some adorable kids call me "Mr. Monster" during the recent blogfest picnic in Prospect Park, but that was meant in fun. Now I’m not so sure.

This latest square dance with dementia started at work, when some inconsiderate schmuck decided to print out at least two entire books, books, I tell you, on the office copier.

This copier serves about half the floor, so if it gets bogged down on one massive project, you have a lot of angry people—with me leading the way.

In spite of all this crap about a paperless society, I still like to print out my stories before I file them. I find if I proofread a story solely on the computer screen, I tend to miss something.

And since I make a lot of mistakes when I write—misspellings, typos, dropped words (a big problem)—I really prefer to have the hard copy in one hand and the avenging pen in the other.

I also like to print out press releases, court documents, government reports or anything else I’m writing about so I can write in the margins, highlight the important stuff—I’m old school all the way.

But none of that was happening last week. As the printer kept on droning and droning, heaving up page after page of this mammoth job, I kept getting angrier and angrier.

Forget that I couldn’t get any of my documents printed, the noise alone was driving me batty; I felt like a drone working his life away in some smoke-belching Industrial Age factory.

This is one of my nightmare visions of office life: all your hopes and dreams are forgotten and your very reason for being boils down to whether or not you can use the Xerox machine.

Then the miracle happened—the damn copier stopped. Great, I thought, I can finally print my stuff. Only it wasn’t so great.

The print job wasn’t finished; the copier had only run out of paper.

I put in a fresh ream of paper and immediately the copier sprang to life and resumed spitting out more pages from this seemingly endless book on tax law.

I re-filled the paper twice and the damn thing was still going. I felt like an animal trainer throwing raw meat to some rabid lion or a fireman on an old locomotive.

It was like the copier was possessed and we needed Father Karras to come in and do an excorcism. (The power of print comples you! The power of print compels you!)

Meanwhile, I was fuming, I was livid, I, of course, was over-reacting. Maybe Father Karras could do something for me, too.

I kept threatening under my breath that I was going to cancel the job--who the hell did this twit think he or she or whatever was clogging up the printer?

I’m not some goddamn office lackey filling up the copier every time it goes belly-up. I was working myself up into a right proper fit.

I called the IT department and after a lengthy and thoroughly pointless conversation, the geek or geekette, I guess, actually gave me Xerox’s phone number so I could take care of this situation.

Shit, lady, why don’t you send me a set of tools and I can fix the men’s room toilet while I’m at it?

I left the office in an extremely foul mood. It seemed like every person in the city was coming out of nowhere and getting in my way.

When I got to West Fourth Street, this boob had planted himself against the wall—during rush hour--while a woman came at me from the uptown side of the station with two little girls falling in behind her.

Do The Stomp

I tried to get around them, but the living statue against the wall refused to acknowledge the presence of anyone else on the planet. I had an appointment uptown; I couldn’t screw around with this nonsense, so I took a step.

And I walked right on this little girl’s foot.

She was about five years old and wearing flip-flops. I heard a substantial “ouch!” as I took my step and I quickly hurled a “sorry” over my shoulder like a verbal hand grenade and kept going.

I was on the A train heading up town when I finally admitted to myself what I had done with my manic-New York commuter-bum rush behavior: I had stepped on a child.

I pictured that girl sniffling as she told her mother about the nasty bald man who had stomped on her.

I imagined the mother cursing my name under her breath (not in front of the kid!) and wishing she had a chance to get her hands on me. God, I sounded like such a scumbag.

I told myself it was an accident, but then I remember Freud said there are no such things as accidents. If that’s true, then on some level, I intentionally stepped on that girl’s foot.

I can’t bear to think that—I love children, I would never hurt one deliberately. To hell with Freud—when was the last time he rode the A train? (I almost wrote “Screw Freud,” but that’s too freaking weird.)

I’m still caught up with this idea that rage is the equivalent of power, that by fuming I’m actually accomplishing something. I must believe that rage is liberating in some way when in it is quite the opposite.

Being trapped by anger is like being in solitary confinement, even though there are millions of people around you.

I was feeling so guilty as the train pulled into 72nd Street, way too early for my appointment, of course.

As I was leaving the station I saw an elderly lady struggling against the tide of heading-homers to get downstairs with her shopping court.

Everyone else was ignoring her, but I had to do penance so I offered to carry her shopping cart down the stairs.

I saw she was walking with a limp—poor woman!—so I stuck out of my hand and guided her down the steps. When we reached the platform, she smiled and gave me a firm shake.

“How do you do?” she asked.

That helped a little bit, but I’m never satisfied. I was walking around the Village on Friday night and I was running late—again with this?

As I came to a narrow point on the sidewalk, I saw an elderly Jamaican lady standing motionless as she allowed other people to go around her.

She had this nervous smile on her face, as ill or weak people usually do when they fear they’re getting in the way of the masses. I made sure to give her a warm smile as I slowly eased around her.

“The sidewalk is so narrow,” she said softly.

“Yes,” I said, “and everybody in New York is in a hurry.”

That got a genuine laugh out of her, not a nervous twitter, and I bid her good night, feeling a little better about myself.

I got the IT people to reroute my printing jobs to a copier in another area of the floor. It means a longer walk, but at least I don’t have to wait for the possessed copier to finally give up the ghost.

When news of Bush's torture scandal broke, I recall reading an interview with a World War II veteran who had been in charge of interogating Nazi officers.

This man said he had gotten the information he needed from his prisoners, but without resorting to torture--even those these men were part of Hitler's genocide machine.

"I never lost my humanity," the veteran proudly declared.

I try to think about that when I go charging out into the world. Yes, I may be in a hurry, but there are people who aren't, there are people who are unable to hurry, even if they wanted to.

I’ve decided that I’m not a monster; I’m like Lon Chaney in “The Wolfman” or one of those two guys in “The Hulk” movies. (Three if you count the TV show with Bill Bixby.)

I’m a reasonably decent man who, like all of us, has a monster somewhere inside him. We all have to tame our inner fiend to make sure it stays “inner” where it belongs.

And if we can do it without having to lock up the children, so much the better.