Friday, December 26, 2008

'Yes, Viagra, There is a Santa Claus..."

I got a spam e-mail the other day that asked a simple, but important question:

Joyous neuroses, Culpepper?‏

I don’t know who Culpepper is, but I often suffer from joyous neuroses at this time of the year.

The email was an offer for Viagra, the gift that keeps on giving. But with the way my love life has been going, I have no use for Viagra, unless I need a place to hang candy canes.

Joyous neuroses seems to be spreading as 2008 draws to a close. I noticed that I was the only customer in my local card store on Tuesday afternoon, which is just not normal.

“How’s business?” I asked the owner, hoping he'd have some happy news.

“Not good. There should be 20 people in the store at this time of the day.”

He then delivered a lengthy diatribe about the alleged Ponzi scammer Bernard Madoff and $50 billion scam.

I went to a supermarket to get food for the dinner and the place seemed pretty sparsely populated.

While I was waiting on line at the checkout counter, one of the other cashiers—a young woman with a Santa hat and four metal studs in her face—scolded a delivery boy who had brushed against her.

“Watch the booty!” she snapped.

On Monday, when it was so bloody cold, I walked down the street feeling sorry for myself until I saw a group of Mexican immigrants lined up outside a local coffee shop on Fifth Avenue, waiting for someone to offer them work. I put head my down and kept on walking.

The good news is that we survived our family Christmas dinner, which was the source of some serious joyous neuroses. It felt strange hosting this dinner at our parents’ home and not having them there.

This year’s event was particularly important because it may or may not be the last Christmas dinner we host in our family home.

The original plan after my father died was to sell our parents’ house some time in the spring, but if you’ve been reading the papers, you know what’s going on with the housing market.

But we did have a nice dinner and now in the great holiday tradition, I am overstuffed, overtired, and overdrawn.

I didn’t watch any of the holiday movies this year, since most of them remind me of my mother.

I was briefly tempted to dig up “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which has some very nice songs, but then I recalled how my mother used to sing one in particular—All Alone in the World—and I thought it was best to leave that video in the cabinet. Maybe next year.

This year I was cursed to hear “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” the Christmas song I loathe the most, four times in just two days. That has to be some kind of human rights violation. Where is Amnesty International when you need it?

If you don’t know this song, I envy you, as it is so atrocious it could drive the Pope to atheism.

The song revolves around some cloying cute bilingual brat who keeps pestering his “mamacita” about Santa Claus’ whereabouts. Whenever I hear this song I want to scream mamacita donde esta barf bag?

The worst moment came on Christmas Eve when the song came on while I was trapped in my sister’s car.

She promptly pumped up the volume and sang along with this nightmare while I calculated how seriously injured I would be if I jumped out of a moving car.

After the dinner, when everyone had gone home and my sister and I were washing a mountain of dishes, we were treated to another Christmas clunker entitled “Dominick the Donkey.

This song is also quite hideous, but by that time I was so tired I was numb to any kind of pain.

Maybe next year we’ll do another holiday road trip. I’ll just about anywhere, so long as it’s warm and I don’t to hear “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” ever again.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jingle Bell Crock

A year ago at this time I was healthy, happy, and in Hawaii.

Now I’m sick, cranky and freezing in Brooklyn.

This is progress?

I am really trying to get some Christmas spirit going now, honest I am.

My sister and I got the Christmas tree (a mere 75 bucks), dug the decorations out of the basement—all the lights work, praise Jesus—and brought out the best china in preparation for our family Christmas dinner on Thursday.

Even as I write this, I’m listening to Christmas music, trying to get the yuletide feeling again. But it’s not happening.

I’ve had a cold for the last 10 days and it’s not just any cold. This is the Blagojevich of colds: vile, debilitating, and it won’t go the hell away.

I was coughing so much last week I sounded like Tiny Tim about to kick the crutch. This blows.

One of my neighbors has an elaborate holiday light display, which features the word “JOY” crucified to the front of his home. It seems like an order or a curse instead of a proclamation.

I’m tempted to put up an equally large sign reading “WHERE?!?” But it’s too damn cold out.

After a week of hacking and cursing, often simultaneously, I cracked down and went to my doctor on Friday, which really is not the best way to kick off your holiday vacation.

I should be out getting plastered in some dive bar hovel while chasing after women half my age until I fall face-first into a vat of week-old fondue. Now that’s an old fashioned holiday.

“I want to enjoy the city at Christmas time,” I whined to my physician.

“You want to go to empty malls?” he demanded. “I went to a mall the other and it was empty. It was very depressing.”

I know he was trying to cheer me up by bringing up the stock market crash, but I’d rather have a choice in where I go rather than being laid low by disease.

Last year, when we were in Hawaii (oh, God) I remember thinking that it didn’t really feel like Christmas.

I was running around the beach on December 25 and wearing shorts and a t-shirt every day. It just didn’t seem normal, which is actually the point of a vacation.

Now I’m back in Brooklyn, shivering, exhausted, and growling at the very sight of Santa. Yeah, that’s more like it.

Scrooge This

For a while there I was getting ill nearly every holiday season. But I’ve been on a good streak for the last three or four years and I was hoping my luck would hold out.

The really bad thing is that this is my second illness in three months. I had a nasty sinus infection in September and now this. And the damn winter has just officially started.

In the immortal words of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, “oy vey iz mir.”

The good news is that I don’t have to be back at work until January 5. (Let’s hope I have work!) I got the R train Friday night at Rector Street and saw someone had marked up the poster for the new movie “Valkyrie.”

“Tom Cruise,” the poster shouts in big letters, to which some pen-wielding smart-ass added “…is really short!” Ouch! Where’s the Christmas spirit, dude?

I might have laughed, but I had a woman dump me because I wasn’t tall enough, so this may be the only time in my life I actually sympathize with Tom Cruise.

But then he’s got Katie Holmes and I don’t, so screw him.

I did get a chuckle out a Stolichnaya poster a few yards down the platform. This one displayed a photo a hot-looking woman wearing a Russian army officer’s hat.

Somebody—perhaps the Tom Cruise defiler—scribbled next to the woman’s face “I marry American and now I have green card.

Maybe if I had enough Stolichnaya I’d forget about my cold. Or, better yet, I could hook-up the hot-looking woman in the army hat and help her get a green card--assuming I pass the height requirement.

I wonder how you say “piss off, half-pint” in Russian.

Okay, so it’s time like these when you have to count your blessings. I’ve a roof over my head, a—fingers crossed—job, my friends and family. I have all this time off, which I will use to build up my health, both physical and mental.

I want to detox, body and soul, so I’ll be able face ‘09 with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Or a song on my face and a smile in my heart—with enough vodka it won't matter either way.

I kind of wish I had planned to go somewhere during this time. It seems nearly every one I know is heading out of New York to some sunny place.

But I’m so sick and tired that the idea of a stay-cation was too tempting to resist.

I promise I’ll make a big trip for my next vacation and see new places, despite my fear of flying. Only this time if I wind up in some place warm, I’m not going to come back.

Right now I’m listening to Johnny Mathis (yeah, I know) singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I’ve decided I’m going to cheer up. I’ve got a few more days to recuperate until the family shindig and then I can hibernate until it’s time to return to work.

I’ll get through this Christmas and I’ll get into the spirit of the season. But keep a bottle of Stoli’s handy just in case.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hi, Mom

I had this dream not long ago where I was meeting with my parents in the living room of our house.

They were both alive and elderly, which is my most recent memory of them. My mother was sitting next to a walker, which she used in real life when her health began to fail.

My father was standing next to her, not saying a word. This is probably the best indicator that I was dreaming.

My mother was telling me that she and my father appreciated how I helped take care of my mother and they wanted to give me something.

“We’re going to give you ten dollars,” she said with great emphasis.

I laughed and explained that they didn’t have to give me a reward, that it was my pleasure to help her and that 10 bucks really didn’t go far in today’s economy.

Apparently the stock market meltdown hadn’t occurred in this dream world.

I’m trying to think what happened during the day to spark that dream. One thing in particular was learning this woman I was interested in had a boyfriend.

Even though I laughed off the idea of a reward from my parents in the dream, I think subconsciously I wanted someone to pat me on the back and tell me I was appreciated. So my mind conjured up the image of my mom and dad.

A short time later I came across an old journal of mine from the year 2000. That was the year I took a trip to Seattle and did a kayak tour around the San Juan Islands. That was a fabulous trip and I can’t believe it’s almost eight years now.

But the journal also took me back to the days when my mother was sick and I was struggling for something resembling a career.

One particular entry was quite disturbing. It was dated June 6, 2000—the anniversary of D Day, which, as I noted in the entry, was quite appropriate.

Can’t stop yelling at my mother,” I wrote. “God please help me; please forgive me…did she ever yell at you—the whole time you were sick or losing those jobs. God, why am I such a shit?

I don’t recall what happened on this day, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse for my behavior and it sickens me to read those words.

I like to look back at the days I helped my mother and imagine myself as some kind of hero, but my own words are there to remind me of how I behaved.

So much of it comes back to self-loathing. I hated myself for stagnating in my parents’ home, for never having the nerve to do something, anything, daring, for not taking any risks.

But instead of facing my problems, I lashed out at the people around me, particularly the person who loved me the most. When the Mills Brothers sang about always hurting the one you love, they knew what they were talking about.

I think part of me actually resented my parents for growing old. It frightened me to see the ones who raised me, who took care of me, become so fragile and so in need of my help.

If I learn nothing else from this experience, I want to at least see that self-hatred only produces more hatred and all that venom eventually spills over and hurts the people around you.

Hello, Again

I think about putting this all behind me and living a better life, but the problem is that I only had one elderly mother and she’s gone now. I can’t really make up for my behavior.

Still, I know my mother would want me to be happy.

She was the most forgiving person I’ve never known and while I hate it when people speak on behalf of the dead, I know she wouldn’t want me abusing myself over this.

In that same entry I tell myself to get some help. I’ve been working on that for a while now and I recently took a qigong course at the New York Open Center.

It was only four-weeks long, but I’m so glad I took the course. As usual, signing up involved a few days of me hemming and hawing about whether I should spend the money on this thing before actually hitting the buttons and registering.

Qigong uses simple exercises and meditation to promote good health. (I’m suffering from a cold right now, but then I just started.)

The exercises are simple, but stimulating, and the mediation techniques are very powerful. Unlike some of the other styles of meditation, where you just concentrate on your breathing, qigong meditation is filled with images.

You picture light traveling through your body, or imagine floating beneath a waterfall that showers you with “all the energy of the universe.”

The teacher spoke about how his instructor “composed” a particular meditation exercise and I thought that word really captured the idea behind these meditations. They’re like symphonies for the mind.

In one particular meditation, the teacher tells us to lie down in a field of followers and visualize a special being coming to us.

“It can be a Buddha or a saint,” he says on the DVD.

I’m not a Buddhist, so I expected my special being to take the form of Jesus or St. Martin de Porres, to whom my grandmother regularly prayed.

But instead of Christ or St. Martin, my special being turned out to be my mother. She came to me alive and healthy and smiling so radiantly.

During normal waking hours, I can never think of my mother for any length of time without crying because I miss her so much.

But during this meditation I was able to see her and not breakdown. It’s like she’s really standing in front of me.

I emailed the qigong teacher asking him if it’s unusual to see a deceased loved one during the meditation and he said it was entirely appropriate. I shouldn’t be surprised at seeing her, since my mother is something of a saint to me.

And I don’t feel guilty when I see her. I don’t feel ashamed for snapping at her and being such a self-centered jerk. The meditation is filled with positive energy.

I get to see my mother just about every night, so I guess I got my reward after all. And that’s worth lot more than 10 bucks.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Take Me to Your Savior

In my sophomore year of high school, I was doing so poorly in several subjects that I decided only a miracle would keep me out of summer school.

So I was pretty shocked when I walked into my home room class on the last day of school and found that I had passed all my classes—not by much, of course—but I was officially a free man until September.

“It’s enough to make you go back to church,” I said, marveling at my narrow escape. Of course I didn’t mean that. I had no intention of going back to church.

I was a smart aleck teenager who was much too cool for church. And I had suffered 8 years of abuse at Catholic school that would have had the Blackwater torture team screaming for their mommies.

No, I was just making a lame joke in a desperate bid to make people laugh. My luck ran out a few years later when I failed math for real this time and had to take it over again in summer school.

I had been going to lunch time services at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan for almost a year. It was close to work, I went on my lunch hour and, most importantly, I enjoyed it.

But I had let that slide recently. While I’m still within walking distance of Trinity, my current location is several blocks farther than before.

And, hey, I had things to do; the economy is collapsing, people are being tossed out of work. I just can’t get up and leave my desk. So I got into the habit of working straight through lunch.

Then I was surfing the Internet—I’m the busy guy, remember?--and I found a news story about a have a Yeshiva College study that found going to weekly religious services—regardless of religion--may lower your risk of death by 20 percent.

The survey’s authors believe the positive health benefits may stem from the sense of community that regular church-going offers.

Hey, whatever. All I know is that when I saw that bit about lowering my risk of death, I decided that was enough to make me go back to church. It was like Ebeneezer
Scroog seeing his headstone--only then does he decide to keep Christmas and make nice with Tiny Tim.

So I hiked down to Wall Street just before noon and took place at my usual pew. I saw some of my regular buds while Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones delivered a fabulous sermon inspired by the miracle of loaves and fishes.

The upshot of the sermon was that we all have great abilities within us.

“It’s all in you,” the reverend said. I was feeling better already.

But the best was yet to come. While I was kneeling down waiting for Communion, Rev. Buzzuti-Jones paused to give me a nice pat on the shoulder before giving me the Host.

No priest has ever greeted me like that before and I really think that Yeshiva bunch is on to something.

It’s fascinating that religion is both a communal and private experience. People all come together to doing something that is—to me, anyway—very personal.

The Reverend even touched upon this in his sermon, noting that attending church services is counter to the norm.

“Look how many people are outside on the streets,” he said, “and how empty the church is.”

Organized religion has long been a large part of the problem, with righteous fanatics of every stripe storm-trooping into our lives. From the Salem witch trials to the 9/11 hijackers, the holy rolling loons abused and misused religion while making life hell on earth for the rest of us.

Put Your Hand in the Hand...

In this country we’ve got the perverted priests and the “intelligent design” fruitcakes who despise science so long as it doesn’t involve widescreen TVs and using the Internet to spread their bilge.

I was just reading about a state representative in Kentucky who believes that the state’s Homeland Security office “should be crediting God with keeping the state safe.”

There are plenty of people whom I respect have no absolutely no use for religion, who would roll their eyes if they could see me walking into a church. (I find it hard to believe some days myself.)

Come again? You mean to say that in addition to all His other duties, God has to keep Kentucky safe?

There’s no mention of what happens to the rest of the country while the Almighty is protecting the Bluegrass State, but maybe God can check on the rest of us when He gets a chance. I wonder if He works security during the Kentucky Derby.

He could really clean up at the betting window, since He already knows the winner.

Last week a British newspaper weighed in with another survey, which found that more people believe in ghosts and UFOs than believe in God.

I don’t have anything against visitors from outer space. Hell, we’re all God’s children, after all, even the little green men.

It’s just that I don’t give them much thought, what with the collapsing economy, my vanishing retirement accounts, worldwide terrorist attacks, and people being trampled to death in Wal-Marts.

Many of the UFO beliefs have a Messiah-like quality where the faithful maintain the aliens will come down to earth and cure all our problems.

They’ll be our saviors and take us away from our lives of drudgery and pain, but they won’t weigh us down with any of those pesky commandments. It’s religion-lite.

Real religion requires work; you have to make a conscious effort to do good things and live a good life, whereas all you have to do to believe in Martians is sit on your keester and wait until they land in your driveway.

The interesting thing about the supernatural poll is that people who believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena don’t believe in God.

As someone who is terrified of flying, I have to say that I do a lot praying when I’m up in the air but it’s not to Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I always thought the nuns in Catholic school had come from another planet, or some dark corner of hell. Sometimes I think it would have been great if Sister Frances Josepha, my fifth grade teacher, had been abducted by a UFO, but then I wouldn't wish that psycho on anyone, aliens included.

If they were planning an invasion, they would booted her ass out of their flying saucer and hightailed it back to Pluto.

I love a good ghost story or tales about aliens, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Jersey Devil, the Abominable Snowman, pixies, banshees, zombies, Doppelgangers, Jerry Springer, Ring Around the Collar, whatever you got, I’m down for it.

One of my favorite shows when I was a kid was In Search Of, where once a week Leonard Nimoy would “investigate” some bizarre incident, life form or activity, and marshal the “facts” until the freakish looked plausible.

It was entertaining as hell, but it wasn’t enough to make me lose my religion.

Astrology has been popular for ages, and while I don’t believe the stars have any say in our destiny, every now and then I get a little jolt.

On Saturday night I was doing my usual routine, where I sit in front of the TV and tell myself I should be going out instead of sitting in front of the TV.

Just before going to bed I made the mistake of picking up the Daily News and checking my horoscope.

If you’re single,” my forecast began, “then it’s unlikely that your will meet someone wonderful by sitting home alone on the weekend, Gemini.”

This wasn’t so much a prediction as it was good advice—the kind of advice I routinely give myself and which I routinely ignore.

I have to admit, though that being called out by the horoscope page really hurts, but one of my friends told me that this is how the universe chose to give me the message.

I should mention that the supernatural survey was done by a marketing firm in conjunction with the release of an X-Files DVD, and details of how the poll was conducted were not reported. So the whole thing could be a marketing scam to benefit Mulder and Scully.

I came back from Trinity Church feeling quite happy indeed. That pat on the shoulder had a long-lasting effect and I plan on getting back to my lunch time routine.

I don’t think my company will be out business if I leave the office for less than an hour and I’m sure the bosses won’t object.

And if they do, I’ll get my buddy Sasquatch to beat the living crap out of them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Out of the Park

All right, people, listen up: the long wait is over.

The 2009 full-color calendar, based on writer/photographer Brenda Becker's astonishing blog “Prospect: A Year in the Park”, has arrived.

Yes, Brenda has knocked this one right out of the park--and straight into your life.

Brenda, of course, is the multi-talented individual who also cranks out those other great gifts to the blogosphere, CrazyStable and, of course, Prospect: A Year in the Park.

Ye gods, is there no stopping this woman? Let’s hope not.

“Designed by the photographer and produced right here in Brooklyn,” Brenda tells us, “it is a perfect gift for anyone who is a Brooklynite by birth, adoption, or desire. Buy an extra one to send to those out-of-town relatives who always ask ‘why you live in Brooklyn’!"

Chart the days of your life with the beautiful images of Brooklyn’s special wonderland, Prospect Park.

"The calendar is a season-by-season reflection on the fathomless beauty and variety of Prospect Park: its forest, meadow, lake, and treasures of art and architecture," Brenda says. "Every month will transport you into a different facet of Brooklyn's jewel."

This calendar is so beautiful, it’ll take the sting out of getting older, paying your monthly bills, and blowing off your new year’s resolutions.

How much do you think this calendar costs? Fifty bucks? No! 25 bucks? Guess again, pilgrim.

Why, this little item is going for a mere $15 plus $2.50 for first-class U.S. postage. Good grief, Brenda's practically giving them away!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: "hey, Rob, I can’t live another minute without this extraordinary calendar. How do I get my trembling hands on this stunning work of art, so that I can be one of the cool people?"

Why, funny you should ask. You can order from the calendar site with one click via PayPal. Or, if you prefer, you can mail a check to:

Brenda L. Becker
11 Marlborough Road
Brooklyn, NY 11226

Shipping will begin December 10 and they’re sure to go fast. So don’t delay, order your calendar today. You'll be glad that you did.