Sunday, January 27, 2008
"But I'll teach my eyes to see,
beyond these walls in front of me."
Tara Lipinski has nothing to worry about.
I went ice-skating today for the first time in...oy...35 years and I think it's safe to say that no skating records were broken today.
But then neither was my spine, so I'm happy for that much.
I was in high school the last time I tried this. I went with some friends to a rink in Coney Island, where I move around in cautious little stomps while the rest of world whizzed by.
I was just starting to feel some degree of confidence when a friend of mine skated by, patted me on the back and the two of us nearly went flying on our asses.
I never went again, although each winter I made half-hearted promises to myself that one day I would try again.
Today was that day. This was my first weekend since being laid off and I had all sorts of negative thoughts going: what if I trip and crack my head open?
Shouldn't I be saving money now that I'm out of work instead of wasting it on childish pursuits?
But I was under doctor's orders, as my shrink told me to get out and do things instead of staying home and being miserable.
I have to admit it's been kind of rough the last few days. I have no place to go during the working hours and this house seems emptier and emptier every passing second.
I'm angrier and more impatient than usual. When I went to see my shrink on Thursday, I managed to get furious twice in under five minutes.
First I stopped off at a deli to get a soda and something to nosh on, which turned out to be an abomination erroneously labeled "Delicious Fat Free Pound Cake."
Now if a product calls itself "Delicious" that is a major warning that it will probably taste like building materials...which, in fact, it did. But I was hungry.
I was about to buy this crap when the cashier turns to answer the phone and leaves me facing her fat rear end for what seemed like several hours.
I waited, I fumed, I muttered under my breath. And when she finally turned around to ring me up I was all smiles, of course. This crap had cost me $4.55, a ridiculous waste of money for something I'd be reluctant to feed to a dog.
Then I crossed the street to get some cash from my bank and there's a homeless guy camped out inside the place who is making the most hideous sounds.
I don't if he was coughing or preparing to vomit, just acting crazy, but I pounded the buttons on the ATM keyboard to get my money and get the hell out of there, the whole time doing the Why Me? routine.
Finally, I forced myself to stop and say a prayer for this poor man who was clearly ill, physically, mentally or both. And I thanked God that I still had a roof over my head and didn't have to seek shelter in ATM lobbies.
I don't want to use the loss of my job as an excuse to lose my temper. I promised I would work on my anger for 2008 and that's what I'm going to do.
Losing my job is a challenge, a huge challenge, very early on in the year, but that's what getting control is all about.
It's easy to be mellow when everything is going your way. It takes more guts to keep from lashing out at the world when life keeps chucking those lemons at you.
I half-heartedly tried to go out Friday night. I had planned to go to a monthly dance at the Museum of Natural History, figuring I would go after work.
But as of Wednesday I had no work, so the idea jack-assing to and from Manhattan from my place in Brooklyn on the subway on a cold winter night didn't appeal to me.
The Man Who Wasn't There
Instead I went downtown to the Brooklyn Academy of Music hoping to check out a jazz band. But the place was so crowded I couldn't get past the lobby. Grrrrr....
I ended up having a glass of white wine by myself at a nearby wine bar and calling it a night. I was feeling so down, so insignificant, it was like I was shrinking into the sidewalk.
As I walked to the subway station I was actually surprised that a man coming from the other direction stepped around me--I honestly felt invisible to the rest of the world. This is not a sign of a healthy mind.
I finally decided this morning to go ice-skating. I want to do new things for the new year and I hadn't seen my friends in the Bay Ridge Meet-Up Group in a while.
I kept my mouth shut about the job situation. No sense in bringing everyone else down when we're all out to have fun. We went to the rink in Prospect Park and as I entered the locker room, I noticed a rink attendant with the name tag "M. Fatal."
Fatal? As in a fatal fall to the ice, where I crack my head open and people scream in horror while simultaneously taking pictures of me bleeding to death with their cell phone cameras?
Maybe I'm pronouncing her name wrong, but as omens go, this wasn't a good one.
Still, I got my skates, took my jittery steps toward the rink and stepped onto the ice.
I made an incredible discovery the moment I stepped onto the great frozen circle: ice is very slippery. Amazing, no?
I felt myself going down and I grabbed hold of the fence...and I held on to that damn thing for most of the day. Every time I stood up straight and let go of the fence, I would feel my feet slipping out from underneath me.
The sound system was blaring the most hideous elevator music, like Lionel Ritchie's "Hello." C'mon, guys, it's bad enough I'm risking a fractured skull out here, must my eardrums be assaulted as well?
I guess if you did fall, the awful soundtrack would take your mind off the pain.
Every now and then the music would stop and a voice piped in from a penitentiary sound system read off the list rules and regulations, which went on and on, seemingly forever, like The State of the Union Address.
Don't do this, don't do that...just go around in circles and don't bother anybody. And have a nice day.
People went sailing by effortlessly, while I and a knot of little girls clung to the fence like it was the railing of the Titanic.
"Y'all still here?" one little girl shouted to her terrified friends as she streaked by us. "What's taking you so long?"
"Your friend is a wiseguy," I muttered to my frightened companions.
I made a second loop around the rink and got behind a mother and her little girl.
"Bend your knees, dear," the woman said to her daughter.
I tried taking her advice and it did help to bend my knees. I felt I had better balance. Then the woman pointed to me as an example of what to do. Lady, please, I've got enough problems...
"See this gentleman?" she said. "See what he's doing?"
"Listen to your mother," I said. "Mom knows best."
I took a break and they finally played a song I liked: a cover of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." It seemed to appropriate considering my current state of mind.
"I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released."
When I got back onto the ice, I found myself behind this very large man and his daughter and I saw his skating ability--or the lack of it--was on a par with mine. So we did the hand-over-hand routine all the way around the rink.
During that last time orbit, I tried letting go of the railing and for a few seconds, I was skating. And there I found the lesson for today.
I had chosen to let go of the support and go out on my own. It was a risk, not much of a one, but a risk nonetheless.
In the case of my job, the fence was pulled away from me and now I'm out of the ice trying to keep from falling on my tuchas.
And even if I do fall, I'll just get back up and keep skating.
"We made it," I said to the father and daughter as we reached the exit.
On the way home, my companions complained about how quickly the weekend had gone by, how Monday was just around the corner. Of course Monday has little meaning when you're out of work, but once again I kept quiet.
This was a good day. I tried something new, spent some time with great people, and chipped away at one of my many fears.
In the great ice rink of life, you can't ask for much more.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
God, I'm frightened.
My father used to say in times of trouble that "scared money never won."
I understand that idea, I really, do. Fear only makes your problems worse and blinds you to all possibilities.
But I have to be honest: Right now I am very scared. Today I became a statistic and joined the swelling ranks of the unemployed.
I am still in shock as I write this and I know I will feel the full impact of this tomorrow morning when I have no place to go.
I wanted a clean slate for '08. Well, I got one, brother, in spades. My old job has been cleaned right of my life.
It seems they're making changes at my now former company and I, along with my supervisor and three other co-workers, have been laid off.
I thought we were relatively safe. Last week they called us into one of the conference rooms and told us that our department would not be getting a raise this year.
Fine, I thought. Thank God--at least I still have a job.
And then we were called into another conference room today and told, well, no, actually, you don't have a job. This in no way reflects upon your job performance, yeah, yeah, sign here and get the hell out.
As the five of us rode down the elevator together and I looked up at the latest news on the in-house TV.
"At least we're doing better than Heath Ledger," I said.
Yes, it wasn't much of a joke, but I wasn't in the best of moods. And it's true, we are still alive.
The thing is, I was starting to lock in on my current position. I was doing some cool feature stories and I was able to work from home when I wanted to.
And I just getting into the videos, too. I had appeared in three (four if you count my first one, which I don't because I was so stiff you curved have tossed me in the Pacific and used me for a surf board.)
I was also hitting the gym nearby and attending services at Trinity Church, which is right up the block from my former office. I was there today, in fact, and the sermon, as usual, was inspiring.
I took this job little more than 2 years ago because I needed it. I was out of work, having quit an awful part-time job.
My dad was still with us, but he needed someone to stay with him and I think we hired his aide, Mary, at around that time.
I liked a lot of the people at the office. There was one core group of guys who cracked jokes nearly all day long and their stuff was funnier than anything you'd hear on most sitcoms.
And then there's my homeless friend, the heavyset woman in the blue hoodie who hangs around Wall Street. She calls me "Papi" and says "God bless ya," every time I gave her a buck. I never did find out her name.
I guess I won't be seeing her again--unless it's at a soup kitchen.
But I never really felt at home at this job and--ego alert!--I never became a star. I'd see other people cranking out great work, being praised up to the skies, while I was in the background gathering dust.
It looks like I'll have to be a star somewhere else now.
Now I'll have to watch every dollar I spend, make sure not waste money on anything extravagant. Should I give up my gym membership, go to some neighborhood dive?
Should I scrub or reduce my Netflix plan? Is it too late to tell Public Radio, ah, look, can you take that monthly donation off me credit card?
Every time I hear the oil burner switch on, I think of those awful heating bills I'll have to pay, and the home owners insurance, and the water bill, and the phone bill, and the utility bill.
I decided this last freezing weekend that I would get out more for the new year, meet people and do things. But that takes money and telling women that you're unemployed is not the best way of making an impression.
I'll have to go through the whole interview rigmarole, go out on job interviews in the dead of winter, and try to stay positive when I really feel like throwing myself down on the floor and crying.
Actually, I've already done the crying game, breaking down while I spoke with my aunt on the phone tonight.
I don't want her or anyone else in my family worrying about me, because then I'm going to worry about them worrying about me. Got Prozac?
My poor mother suffered every step of the way in my tortured route to getting a career. I had a lot of trouble holding down a gig after I first graduated from college and I know she felt my fear and frustration every time I got canned.
Now I'm older and still struggling, only I can't go running to Mommy, as much as I'd like to, as much as I need to.
It just seems that I haven't had an easy relationship with working life, or, adulthood in general for that matter.
I've spent so much of time, of my life, dreaming up these great plans, thinking these great thoughts but something like this brings home the excruciating reality that I'm just a lonely, unemployed middle-aged guy living in his family's empty house.
I have played it safe for most of my life and look what it's gotten me--nothing.
I might as have taken off for L.A. or any other part of the world when I was in my twenties, I might have done something to break the mold, instead of keeping my head low and hoping everything works out. I was playing with scared money.
I was watching a segment tonight about unemployment on the evening news tonight--I get the feeling there will be a lot more of these in the months to come--and the message was that when you're looking for work, you have to re-invent yourself.
I like the sound of that. There's nothing like having the earth yanked out from underneath you to force your brain to think in a new direction.
This is going to be tough. The TV report said experts figure you should calculate $10,000 a week of searching to reach your desired salary. So if you want 60 grand, figure you'll be out of work for 6 weeks. I suspect it'll take a lot longer than that, but I'll do my best.
I'm trying not to slide in negativity. I mean, I'll have more time to work on the novel, the new screenplay and God knows how many other projects I have circumnavigating my mind.
The last time I got laid off from a job, I went to the Brooklyn Museum's First Saturday event with my sister and some of her friends.
I recall being on the dance floor, trying to look happy, but the whole time I was thinking, what's going to happen to me? What's going to happen to me? I'm going through some of that now.
Earlier this evening I thought of that nightmare drive from Kona to Hilo during our family trip to Hawaii during the holidays, when I did battle with darkness, bad weather, worse roads, and lunatic drivers. It was horrible, but I got through it.
I think of the plane rides to and from the Big Island, when I was so terrified, I begged God to let me live, I didn't care what happened when I reached the ground, just let me get there alive and well.
I did get there alive and well. Now I have to do something constructive with the time that's been given me.
So I'll get through this one. I won't play with nervous money, but I'm bound to be a little tense until I see the hand that's been dealt to me.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
If I never hear the phrase "wind chill factor" again for the rest of my life, I won't complain a bit.
It's cold here in Brooklyn as I type these words, cold as a bastard.
And with memories of Hawaii stilling in my head and the remnants of my suntan still clinging to my skin, the nose-diving temperatures are even more depressing.
But I'm thankful the oil burner is working now, after the thing tanked on me last week.
Although this is a three-day weekend, I barely left the house, aside from a book reading and wine-tasting on Friday and the Brooklyn Blogade get-together this morning, which, by the way, was a lot of fun.
I enjoyed great people, good food, and the introduction of yet another Brooklyn neighborhood--Clinton Hill--that I knew little or nothing about. This group is sure making me get around.
Aside from Blogade it looks like the most exciting event of the weekend will be cleaning out the refrigerator, which I did this afternoon.
I know that doesn't sound especially thrilling, but if you ever had a chance to see the condition of my refrigerator over the last 10 to 12 months you might change your mind.
There was stuff in there from a year ago when my father died, including several cans of Suscatel, a supplement we were giving him when started to lose weight.
It would be a shame to throw that stuff out, as I believe it is still good, but I don't think anyone would want someone else's food--even it does come in a can.
Tonight I opened the refrigerator and I'm so used to shaking my head and saying, "man, I got to clean this thing," that I said it again, even though the thing was squeaky clean.
In other big news, I had something of an impromptu Jennifer Lopez film festival this weekend, courtesy of Netflix.
My original plan was to get out of the house and do things, meet people, to make good on one my New Year's goals and socialize more.
The cold has taken a lot of out of me, though, and I'm going to postpone that New Year's goal for just a little while longer. So it was just me and the DVD player for a large part of the weekend.
I had clicked two movies that I had wanted to see and realized when they arrived that both starred J. Lo, or Jenny from the Block, or whatever the hell she's calling herself these days.
I've never been a huge fan, but it was too late to change my choices. I could tell people I spent the weekend with Jennifer Lopez and roll my eyes in a lascivious manner, though that might be bad for my eyes.
The films--"Angel Eyes"--speaking of eyes--and "The Cell" weren't bad. "The Cell," in particular, was visually stunning, but narratively deprived.
The movie served up one stunning image after another and they were all hooked up to such a lame "rescue the girl" plot it looked as if someone said late in the production screamed, "Oh, Christ, we forgot to write a script!"
The film also starred Vincent D'Onofrio, who's also been turning up in a lot of my Netflix choices lately.
He's the killer in this flick and J. Lo enters his twisted mind in attempt to save his latest victim before she drowns in a highly elaborate trap that only killers in movies create.
Dream A Little Dream
While romping around the psycho's psyche, Lopez meets the child version of the killer , a innocent kid who hasn't hurt anyone. It got me thinking of my hypnotherapy session, where I met a youthful version of myself, only I'm not a serial killer...honest.
And I think of John Lennon's song "Woman," with the line about understanding "the little child inside of the man." I was dating someone when the "Double Fantasy" album came out and "Woman" was our song.
I attended mass the other week at Trinity Church and the priest said during his sermon that "God sometimes speaks to the child inside you," so there seems to be a theme going on here.
We try to tell ourselves to grow up, to be adults to act our age(s), but there's a part of us that will always be a child, will always crave love and understanding.
I enjoy the services at Trinity, even though as a Roman Catholic I feel a little guilty for being there.
I found out on Friday that my favorite priest there, the one who speaks about the child inside us, is a former Catholic himself. Apparently he made the transition without being struck by a bolt of lightning.
He always quotes a poem during his sermons and then hands out copies at the end of the service. That never happened in all my years of going to Catholic masses.
And he always welcomes everyone to Trinity, regulars, first-timers, even the tourists wandering up and down the aisles, no matter who you are, he says, "everyone is welcome at God's table."
On Friday, he read from Matthew, where Jesus tells Peter that he will build his church "upon this rock."
"You are also the rock," the priest told us. "God wants to build his church upon you, also, so the gates of hell shall not prevail."
It's strange being back in church after all these years and this talk of hell makes me think of my grammar school days and those psychotic nun's who were even crazier than Vincent D'Onofrio's character in "The Cell."
I enjoy the services now that there are no nuns hanging over my shoulder ready to box my ears and condemn my soul. I'm even singing the hymns, even though I don't know them and my voice is rather...how you say?...bad?
Talk of hell usually makes me angry, as many alleged religious "leaders" use images of devils and flames and eternal damnation as an excuse to terrorize people.
I enjoy saying the Rosary and one of the prayers--"Oh, My Jesus"--contains the line "save us from the fires of hell."
I didn't like that prayer at first because of this medieval concept, but I've come to believe that hell can have other meanings beyond the traditional land of endless torment.
Surely when we abuse ourselves with anger and hatred, that's a kind of hell--far more potent and terrifying than any cartoon world of fire and pitchforks. We create hell every time we lose our tempers and lash out at each other.
I've dedicated this year to freeing myself from that particular hell and I'm realizing that it's going to be a hell of job.
All these years of walking around angry and frustrated makes it difficult to change; it calls to mind that old analogy about a battleship changing direction. It can be done, but it's going to take a while.
Now with this freezing weather, I'm not so frightened of hell as I used to be.
Somebody please take me back to Hawaii. I've finally cleaned my refrigerator and I think deserve a reward.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."
This is certainly the week for celebrations.
My two beautiful nieces were both born this week and today marks the third anniversary of this blog. I should take myself out for dinner.
I was looking over my initial entry of the LPG--"Coronation Day"--and I believe I've come a long way from the very unhappy man who sat down in front of his computer three years ago and pressed the "Publish Post" button for the first time.
I talked about being "marooned" and having no job or family or any of the other good things in life.
I haven't moved physically, I still haven't found the love of my life, and I still suffer depression, paranoia, hypochondria, fear of flying and a shocking addiction to diet soda. But still...
I feel a little better. I can barely remember the women I seemed to have been so upset about back in '05. I still haven't put in that webcam like I promised, but, I'll get around to it. And, hell, you know what I look like.
I've met a lot of great people through blogging, in person and online and I thankful for all of you who read my ravings and leave comments.
You've made my world bigger and so much better, you helped me realize that I am not alone, that I'm not marooned as I thought back in the day.
It's been a great experience and I look forward to meeting more people out there in the cyber-verse. I'll be seeing a lot of you on Sunday for the Brooklyn Blogade meeting in Clinton Hill. I'm psyched.
Today I have a job--praise the Lord--and my outlook is a little more positive, only because I've very slowly learned that negativity wasn't getting me anywhere but deeper into a hole.
My father was still alive back then, though he was beginning to slip away from us. I think back then I was still able to leave him alone without having anyone come in to watch him, but that wouldn't last much longer.
I have this split view of my father. While I still feel powerful--and quite useless--rage toward him, I do remember the good times and the good things he did for me.
It's just so hard to balance those memories with some of the incredibly mean-spirited, spiteful things he did. I'll never understand his need to control and take over anything that was of any importance to his wife or children.
If we loved something, he'd find a way to crap all over it. You can call it a sickness, that he was an insecure man, but his actions hurt a lot of people besides himself.
But my father's dead and gone from this world, so why am I still getting angry over someone who is no longer here? There are other things I could be doing.
I could devote my time to so many of the unfinished projects I have hanging over my head.
I could clean up my act, literally and otherwise, and get a life, instead of crashing down to the couch with the latest Netflix release every weekend.
Instead of thinking about my father, I could think about my two nieces, who have brought me so much joy and happiness over the years, it's nearly impossible to put it into words...but I'll keep trying.
But, no, I keep resurrecting ancient and ugly memories, like some kind of Freudian Dr. Frankenstein. (Dr. Freudenstein? Hey, I like that. A new dimension in horror is coming to a theater near you...)
I see from my year-ago post that I was recalling some of my father's best advice. I thought of another one today at work when things started to pile up and I was running short on time.
My dad used to tell me that instead of freaking out, I should ask myself, "how can I be most effective in this situation?"
If you're really honest with yourself, you can come up with a lot of answers, but freaking out is rarely one of them.
Going nutzoid is the easy way, really, an excuse to shout "why me?" instead of intelligently asking "what do I do now?"
He also used to tell us about getting up "a big head of steam," where we'd get so upset or angry about something only to find that we had been worried over nothing.
What Me, Angry?
My father seemed to have a big head of steam most of the time, but he was able to give sound advice. It's a pity he didn't take it, but we're long past that stage.
I've dedicated 2008 to something I call "The Anger Project," where I monitor and write about my seemingly endless supply of rage.
I'm just going to keep a watchful eye on how I think, how I believe, and try to adjust accordingly.
I've got my notebook for the expressive writing exercise, where I analyze my rage.
I can see the past is so much a part of my present that it's not surprising I fly off the handle at minor things. The balloon is ready to burst, all it needs is a little more air.
I also have a smaller memo pad. Here I make short notes about what and who is making me angry (I'm making myself angry, to be honest) at a particular time.
It's a little spooky how far back some of my angry memories go, some reaching all the way down the rabbit hole to my high school, and even grammar school days.
(Like that fat fuck Murphy who used to torture me in seventh grade, I hope you die, you lard-ass son-of-a-bitch...oh, where was I?)
Okay, clearly there's a problem, a sign the size of giant billboard that I need to do a lot of work if I'm ever going to be happy.
I've been looking online for various anger management techniques and programs. The fact that there are so damn many of them would indicate that I'm not alone in the fury department.
There's a whole industry out there geared for the rage-o-maniac in your family, which might even be you.
This has also been the week for even more bizarro dreams. I racked up three humdingers in four days and I'm looking forward to the three-day weekend so I can give my psyche a rest.
The first had something to do with wild dogs overrunning our neighborhood. My late mother was in this one and that's pretty spooky in its own right.
She appeared to be bleeding from minor wounds on her cheek and throat, which were marked by brown streaks I assume to be dried blood.
I forget what she had to say--she wasn't talking to me directly; she never does in my dreams, but she was talking matter-of-factly about tussling with one of the roving mutts.
The last image I recall is a Great Dane trotting up the driveway of my house. My shrink suggested tonight that the Great Dane might be my father and I tend to agree.
Dream Two found me back in Hawaii, thank God, but instead of enjoying myself, I was apparently involved in a burglary gone bad; it had gone so bad that an innocent person was now dead.
I recall sitting across a table from a Hawaiian man whom I did not recognize and he was telling me the police had picked up our guy--the one who had committed the break-in and the homicide--and that it was only a matter of time before we were both arrested.
I sat there listening to the guy, trying desperately to find out a way out of this mess and coming up with nothing. When I woke up, I thanked God that it had all been a dream.
It seems something in my subconscious was looking to spoil my memories of Hawaii by immersing me in the middle of a B-movie murder plot.
I feel sometimes that I'm being held back by a lot of things in my life and I want to break free. I think this dream was a manifestation of those fears.
And finally, last night I dreamed we were under attack by some kind of flying creatures who scooped people right up from the ground and carried them into the sky, where the victims were killed and--I believe--eaten, and their remains dumped back down to earth.
I'm thinking now that this might have something to do with my fear of flying. Even though I'm off the plane and I don't have immediate plans to fly, the sensation of being up in the air and helpless is hard to shake.
I can work on my anger during the daylight hours. At night, though, my dreams are going to run wild. And I keep blogging about them.
Monday, January 14, 2008
We dodged the blizzard today, but I got hit with the gunk.
The huge snowstorm that was supposed to hit last night never happened, as the weather people appear to have the success rate of a New Hampshire pollster.
Of course, I'm in no position to point fingers.
Many years ago while working at a small paper in Pennsylvania, I was the author of a story headlined "Major Snowstorm Misses Poconos," which I suspect many readers never saw as they were too busy digging out the 9 feet of snow that hit the Poconos right between the eyes.
I have mercifully forgotten what precipitated that particular screw-up, but I remember being sure about the story before I left the paper that night--something reporters always say after the fertilizer hits the air conditioning unit.
Screw all that--I don't do weather stories any more, so I feel free to complain.
I had planned to get up early this morning so I could shovel before going to work, but when I looked out the window at 6 a.m. there was only rain on the sidewalk, not snow.
Well, my dad used to say you can't shovel rain, so I was relieved, but a little confused.
Then while I was washing the breakfast dishes, I realized something else was missing: the heat. My oil burner was had gone silent and the water coming out of the faucet was cold and getting colder.
Oh, yes, just what I need for a Monday morning. Naturally the oil burner was working perfectly on Sunday, when I didn't have anywhere to go.
My computer was giving me grief on that day, so I guess whatever hairy-ass gremlin that had been occupying my hard drive skated down to the basement and took up residence in my boiler.
I monkeyed around with the thermostat, listening intensely for any sounds of life coming from down below. Nothing, not a peep out of the bastard.
My morning shower was a nightmare, alternating between lukewarm and freezing cold. I handled it like an adult, however, cursing and fuming and shaking my fist at the heavens while wailing, "why me?"
I really am working on the anger, but today did not represent a step forward. Finally I called the oil company and told them the story.
"Do you have oil?" the guy asked.
I didn't scream or curse, or holler "of course I do, you fucking moron, how stupid do you think I am?!?"
I simply said, "yes, I have oil."
I decided to go to work and have the repair guy come fix the boiler in the evening. I was crabby all morning, snarling at anything that went wrong--late subways, slow computers. I learned that a co-worker was out sick, so I had to do his job as well.
Normally, I wouldn't mind this at all, but not today, of all days, when I felt unclean due to that lousy shower, where I was convinced my house would be a two-story ice block when I got home, and where I was sure I'd have to shell out thousands of dollars to get the heat back on.
Like I said, I handled it like an adult.
Back to the Ranch
When I was a kid, the heat went off in our home and I thought it was fun, an adventure. I said "we're living like Eskimos!" I wasn't laughing now, though.
My boss heard my tale of woe and let me go home early, so I could do my work while waiting on the repair guy.
I wasn't home 20 minutes when there was a knock on the door and there was a man with something tattooed to his neck ready to fix my oil burner.
I showed him downstairs and went about my business. My father used to hang over the repairman's shoulder, as if he actually knew what the guy was doing.
I don't know how he didn't get hit in the head with a monkey wrench, but I guess the oil company gives their people anger management lessons.
I put on a sweatshirt and tried to concentrate on my work, but every so often I'd hear the furnace come on and smile; and then it would go off and I'd start fuming.
It was like listening to a boxing match on the radio, "he's up, he's down, he's back up..." Apparently I have the Rocky Balboa of oil burners.
Finally I heard the repairman trudging up the cellar steps. I felt like a relative in a hospital waiting room.
"Is it working?" I asked.
"What was wrong with it?"
"It needed to be cleaned," he said, holding a plastic container filled with black liquid. "It had some gunk."
Gunk? Is that the technical term for the stuff in the container? I remember an old Bill Cosby routine where his garage mechanic gives him a whole long spiel about what 's wrong with his car.
When Cosby asks for a translation, the mechanic says "there's a lot of gunk in there." I wonder if there's any gunk in my computer.
I gave the guy 10 bucks and he gave me my receipt. I noticed he had a small skull tattooed on the back of his thumb.
It looks like the furnace is working now, the gunk has been routed and the blizzard has moved on to parts north.
I have to say it feels good to hear that steady rumble from below and it makes me think of people who have to sleep over subway grates to get some warmth.
I promised that this year I would make dealing with my anger the top priority and in less than a day I've had two problems come up, both of which made me very angry.
I handled them, contacted the right people and made contingency plans. But I got angry, I yelled and cursed, pretty much throwing a temper tantrum.
And, as I always do when I'm angry, I replay unpleasant memories from my life, as if I'm trying to keep my rage going.
There's no such thing as a life without anger and there are times when you really have to get angry. Still, it's better to take action than freak out.
If only I could have someone drain the gunk of my mind. But it looks like I'll have to do that one on my own.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
On Christmas Day, my family went to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. It must have been close to 80 degrees that day and the water was so blue it could bring tears to your eyes.
Now I'm back in Brooklyn and it's hard to believe I was ever in such a beautiful place. My eyes may start producing real tears any second.
There's a big snowstorm on the way tonight, or so I'm told. The weather geniuses are talking about accumulations of three to seven inches tonight and tomorrow, which will give us all yet another reason to hate Mondays.
The air is charged and cold outside; it feels like something very big is going to happen very soon, and I've got the shovel and the ice melting crystals ready to go.
I'll have to get up early to shovel or possibly go out tonight to make a preventive strike on the impending blizzard. Maybe I should stand outside all night and attack the thing flake-by-flake.
Or maybe I should just haul my ass back to Hawaii.
It's been 11 days since I traded the Big Island for the Big Apple and it's giving me a big pain.
During our visit to the national park, we learned that in old Hawaii just about every infraction was punishable by death--I guess they weren't big on rehabilitation back then.
Your only hope for survival was to get to the nearest puuhonua, or place of refuge. If you reached the sacred grounds before your would-be executioners got hold of you, your life would be spared.
It's kind an extreme game of hide-and-seek and if the writers' strike goes on much longer, it may be coming to a TV near you.
I wonder if there are puuhonua in Brooklyn.
Is There A Doctor in The House?
It's been a strange couple of days. I finally went to the doctor for my full physical , something I had been putting off for 10 months.
I don't know why it took me so long to get over there--it's only three blocks--but I let the time slip by.
I'm happy to say that all my vitals were good, but I'm sorry to say my physician was in a terrible mood.
I don't know if you've ever been examined by a cranky doctor, but you try to avoid this experience at all costs.
It seems that due to some insurance company snafu, several labs began rejecting claims for patients' various tests.
The result was that my doctor was on the hook for the money and had to take a $300,000 (!) loan from the bank in order to keep his office running.
And even so, he's thinking of shutting down his practice, which would be a shame because he is an excellent physician.
I thought about making a few jokes to cheer him up, but I don't think wisecracks are what this doctor would order at the moment and it's never a good idea to piss off the man who's giving you a physical.
I made this decision just as the doctor was slipping on a plastic glove to examine my southern hemisphere, so I'm really glad I kept my mouth shut.
The ordeal was bad enough on its own without an angry guy wearing the glove. And please, no wisecrack wisecracks, okay?
Now that I'm 50--oh, God, that hurts--I have to get a colonoscopy and I can't tell you how much I'm looking for to that little voyage to my basement plumbing.
I asked my doctor if he did this kind of thing, hoping that he did so I could work with someone I knew.
"No," he snapped. "That's for the specialists--they get the big bucks."
Okay, guy, just thought I'd ask. Can I go now? I'm glad I wasn't getting a flu shot or he'd probably start hacking away like Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Maybe he should run to the nearest puuhonua.
Roll Over and Play Stupid
Here's a little tidbit of useless information:
Did you know that when you spell check "puuhonua" that alternative suggestion is "sousaphone"? Somehow I don't think a sousaphone is going to save you from impending death...might even cause it.
I watched this lame sci-fi action DVD the other night with Rutger Hauer called Blood of Heroes. I had somehow gotten it into my head that this anemic Mad Max clone was actually some forgotten gem, but quickly learned that it deserves all the forgetfulness it receives.
I did get a good line out of it, though, when a severely injured character named Dog Boy angrily refuses to be carried by his teammates in a hammock.
"Nobody carries the Dog Boy!" he defiantly declares.
Good, boy. Stand up for yourself, even when you're unable to stand. Now roll over and play dead and we'll see about erasing this dog of a movie from your resume.
Last night I hooked up with my buds for a Thai dinner and a viewing of There Will Be Blood, an intense epic starring Daniel Day Lewis.
On the way to the theater, I made a pit stop at the Barnes & Noble store on Sixth Avenue and 21st Street.
The voice of Neil Young followed me as my way to the gents, singing "Helpless, helpless, heeelllpless..." and I saw a young policewoman standing guard near a rack of paperbacks.
My eyes drifted to her nameplate and I read one word: "Lonesome."
I was moving quickly and my eyesight is fading fast, but I'd swear that's what it said.
Was she admitting what so many of us in this eternal combustion engine of a city try so desperately to hide--that we're lonesome, that we feel like we've been set adrift inside some massive theme park with no discernible theme, nothing to grab hold of, and no way of getting out?
Or did her name just happen to be Lonesome?
"Helpless, helpless, helpless..."
I Carry A Heart
We'll never know, I guess, since by the time I came out of the men's room, Officer Lonesome was gone. It's a pity, I wanted to invite her to go to the puuhonua with me.
I could have used her help on the subway ride home. I was riding the N train and I was almost ready to get off when this woman got on at 36th Street and sat near the other end of the car.
She had bleached blond hair and a silver overcoat. She looked a little odd, and I hate saying that because it sounds so judgmental, but it was like she wasn't right in the head.
There's no logic here, just instinct. But then our eyes met and I thought she was giving me this kind of inviting look.
Look away, she's trouble, the paranoid portion of my brain said, and I did like I was told.
But then I looked again, and once more our eyes met and I got something like a look in return.
Okay, now what? Do I have the nerve to walk down half the length of a subway car and talk to a strange--potentially very strange--woman who really didn't do it for me, except for the fact that she might be interested in me and maybe save me from the Lonesome Riders?
No, I didn't have that kind of nerve. And I was okay with that, until she started talking with the guy next to her. Then I began to feel jealous and remorseful. Why didn't I have the guts to talk to her?
If she was nuts, well, I could always get off at the next stop and chalk it up to experience. But instead I hid behind my Village Voice and fumed, feeling so helpless, helpless, heeelllpless...
Please let me get to 59th Street quickly, I begged the subway gods. Please get me to the underground puuhonua. I'll even settle for a sousaphone, I don't care.
The train finally pulled into my stop and I got off. And so did she. And, worse yet, so did he, and I could hear her laughter up and down the length of the train station, proving that bleached blonds really do have more fun.
I tried reading my paper or watching the short bald guy standing on the edge of the platform move his arms back and forth as if he were tossing an invisible ball from hand to the other. Nothing doing.
I needed Office Lonesome to come and carry me away. Let Dog Boy take care of himself.
The local pulled in and the blond woman got on and then got off at my stop.
I don't know what happened to her new friend, all I know is that it wasn't me and I'm not sure how I feel about that.
I can hear the rain hitting my window now, which is how this nightmare is supposed to begin.
I'm going to go to bed soon so I can be ready for some serious shoveling tomorrow morning before work. But I won't stop looking for my puuhonua.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
You can never outrun a bad dream.
I learned this little lesson during my trip to Hawaii. There was a point a few days into the vacation where I thought I had stopped worrying and was starting to relax.
I had forgotten about the plane ride to the island and refused to think about the return flight. I had been worried about leaving the house empty, but I decided there was nothing I could about it since I was halfway around the world.
I had given my neighbor a key to the front door and my cell phone so he could call me in case of an emergency and then I just let my fears go.
Or so I thought.
One night early into the vacation I dreamed I came home to our place Brooklyn and found bars across the doors. I somehow got into the place and saw workers moving out furniture and totally remodeling the place.
An obnoxious woman behind a desk told me I no longer own the place, that it had been taken over somehow, and she started mocking me, taunting me, about how she and her cohorts had screwed us out of our family's home.
Well, I just reared off and let loose with a barrage of the foulest obscenities known to man or beast. I mean, it was sick, depraved stuff, and I looked like a total psycho.
Next to losing the house, this image of myself was the worst thing about this nightmare.
I woke up in beautiful Kona, amazed and a little spooked at how my subconscious had brought me back to Brooklyn to contend with one of my deepest fears.
I'm thinking of this dream now because I see just how much anger I carry around with me. I want to change, I want that clean slate for 2008, but the dark corners of my mind are ganging up against me.
I am great at creating rage scenarios, where I interpret something as an insult and summon up all this internal fury.
It's happened a couple of times already in this new year and it's making me nervous.
The post office screwed up the request to hold on to my mail and they were telling me that I had not received anything for the whole time I had been away.
Annoying, yes, but was it worth all the anger that I put into it? Or, to put it another way, was it worth getting high blood pressure or giving myself a heart attack or a stroke.
No, it wasn't--not even close.
I'm also raging at people from my past, including my father, who died one year ago Monday. Twelve months gone and I fantasize about bashing the guy's head in.
My father was an angry man who could explode at any second. He had gone through the Depression, fought in World War II, and came home to raise a family--none of which I've done.
That's the Signpost Up Ahead...
I want to stop all this hatred and live the life I have now. I'm just wasting time and energy and endangering my health with all this bitterness. I'm putting bars around myself.
I try to remind myself of the whimpering weenie who sat in an airplane and begged God to get his sorry ass back to earth in one piece.
I promised the Good Lord that I would forgive anyone who had ever wronged me going back to kindergarten, that I would not harbor any grudges and go into the new year as a new man.
Then the plane touched down and I went right back into my usual insanity. It got so bad that I went online and looked up several anger management programs.
I'm going to try them all, including expressive writing where you right down exactly what's bothering you. I even a special notebook for this purpose.
While we were in Hawaii, we watched some of the Twilight Zone marathon that was running on the Sci-Fi Channel during New Year's Day.
This can be an incredible time-waster, by the way, as you sit in front of the tube and swear you won't watch another episode, until that famous theme comes on, and you figure, oh, hell, just let me take a peek at the next one.
There was one episode I had never seen before that starred Joseph Wiseman as this incredibly wealthy man who was out to settle scores with three people who had wronged him--or so he thought--a minister, a former teacher, and his commanding officer in the army.
This story took place during the Cold War, when the whole world lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation, and Wiseman had devised a plan where he lured the three people into his bomb shelter and then faked a civil defense announcement of an imminent attack.
He offered his three victims a opportunity to take refuge in his bunker. All they had to do was apologize to him.
But they refused. All three wanted to be let out, to spend their few remaining minutes with their loved ones.
"If I have only a short time to live," one said, "I'm not going to spend it apologizing to you."
Wiseman lets them go, but he is so shaken that they did not come crawling to him that his mind snaps and he actually thinks the world has been destroyed by nuclear bombs.
Even with all his wealth, all his power, this man could not make peace with the past and it cost him everything.
This sounded a little too familiar to me. While I'm in no danger of giving Donald Trump a run for his considerable money, I do carry grudges for years, like a convict with a ball and chain around his ankle.
Now I'm back home, tanned, rested and neurotic. I had yet another dream this morning, where I was going to take a tour bus to upstate New York, but the thing drove off without me.
I cursed and fumed and try to call the driver on my cell phone, but it wasn't going through.
I went inside a house that looked like my aunt's summer home and started talking with this childhood "friend" of mind-a back-stabbing scumbag in reality--and then I got a message from a former co-worker I haven't spoken to in over a year.
I woke up exhausted, tired no doubt from all the running around I did in the dream. I have such anxiety bubbling beneath the surface.
I'm going to change for the new year. No, seriously, I'm determined this time. I know it won't happen easily, it won't take place overnight. There is no quick fix for a lifelong addiction, and that's what anger is for me, an addiction.
I'll do whatever I have to do to change.
Rest in peace, Dad.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
I can't believe I'm back. But then I can't believe I went in the first place.
I spent the holidays with my family in Hawaii this year, which is so far beyond my normal routine that I'm starting to wonder if I imagined the whole thing.
But it was real. I actually got on airplane--the first time in about 8 years--and spent 10 days in fecking Hawaii. And it was fantastic.
My sister, my aunt and myself represented the East Coast in this family summit meeting, while my brother, his wife, and my niece weighed in from San Francisco.
We stayed on the Big Island, first in Kona and then in Hilo, and I couldn't believe I was walking around in shorts and a t-shirt in December.
I've always wanted to spend one Christmas away from home and now that my parents are both gone, I'm not sure what "home" means anymore.
Obviously I don't want to quit celebrating the holidays at all, but they lose some of their meaning without my mom and dad around.
While we're not what anyone would call church-goers, we wanted to attend a Christmas service and we found the perfect place just a short walk from out hotel in Kona.
Mokuaikaua Church, Hawaii's oldest Christian church, was holding a service on Christmas Eve, and I have to say, it was incredible.
The building itself is a treasure, made from 'Ohi'a trees and completed in 1837. We East Coasters sat in the back as three women in traditional costumes sang and danced up the aisle toward the altar.
They were followed by three men, also in traditional garb, who approached the altar one at a time and bowed.
I should mention here that this sort of thing never happened during the Christmas mass at Our Lady of Angels Church in Brooklyn, at least not when I was going there.
We sang all my favorite carols and lit candles, it was the kind of celebration that simultaneously felt completely different and quite familiar.
On Christmas Day, we ate at a restaurant by the beach and from my chair I could see the waves crashing on to the shore.
I had a good time, but the female members of our party informed me that I had too much to drink and was being obnoxious. I respectfully disagree, but I also don't remember much from the evening either.
As I write this, I'm listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing "Mele Kalikimaka," a Hawaiian Christmas song. Mahalo, Bingle.
After the holiday, we did the Hawaii thing. I was designated driver and I had a great time sitting behind the wheel of a new car. After years of creaking around in rust buckets, I felt like I was piloting the space shuttle.
Everything was automatic in this goddamn thing--the doors, the windows, the trunk--I felt like the Amazing Kreskin making all these things happen.
I still don't know what half the buttons and dials mean, but I loved the feeling of just tapping the gas pedal and taking off.
My old Toyota wouldn't take off unless you dropped a match into the gas tank, which would have been a good idea, now that I think of it.
One day we went out on a boat for snorkeling with the dolphins. I don't swim worth a damn, but I was content to sit on the deck and enjoy the sun and sea.
The dolphins were scarce--apparently they were trying to sleep--but we did see a couple of them fly out of the water and spin through the air.
A day or two later, I started off at the beach and ending up freezing my tail off on the snowy peak of Mauna Kea, a mere 14,000 feet above sea level.
This is the perfect place for a man who is afraid of heights, but I'm glad I wasn't sitting in the front seat of the tour bus.
We also went to a seahorse farm, where the guide told us that sea horses don't stray far from where they were born and are not at all aggressive when it comes to fighting other fish for food.
It sounded a little too familiar. I rarely travel and I'm not good at speaking up for myself. But I'm not a seahorse.
After that, we packed up and headed off to Hilo, which is about two hours away. We saw some incredible scenery, but the last 30 miles or so provided me with some of the most hellacious driving I've ever experienced.
Let's see, we had rain, fog, little or no lighting on twisting roads, construction, drivers who seemed bent on committing suicide, and an extremely nervous middle-aged guy from Brooklyn who hates driving at night and probably needs glasses but is too deep in denial to admit it.
Other than that, well, it was a walk in the park.
Hilo was colder than Kona, with rain and very changeable weather. You're driving along when the sky opens up and the rain comes down so hard you have to switch on the hazard lights, slow down to crawl and hope the clowns around you are being equally cautious.
But then it stops, the sun comes out, and everybody speeds up. It's like Mother Nature is doing the Emily Litella line--"never mind."
We saw such incredible scenery: sheer cliffs, monstrous waves, huge trees and bizarre plants. It was like exploring another planet.
I remember looking around and thinking, hey, this is just like the greenhouse at the New York Botanical Garden.
Then I reminded myself, that this was real, an actual rain forest, not a bogus one.
We went to Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park twice during our time in Hilo and there's still plenty we didn't see.
Now, as for the flying, well, that was pretty much horrible. I had gone to a hypnotist in hopes of erasing this phobia from mind like an draftsman rubbing away a slip of the pencil, but it didn't work out that way.
Every morning for a month I listened to a tape of the hypnotist telling me that from now on I would be cozy and comfortable on a plane.
Instead I was terrified, saying the Rosary over and over, clutching my parents' mass cards, and squeezing my poor sister's hand to a sweaty pulp.
My sister pointed out that I did actually get on a plane, so there was some progress, but I was hoping for a Manchurian Candidate thing, where instead of turning into a mindless assassin, I become fearless of flight upon seeing the Queen of Diamonds.
Maybe I should have gone to Angela Lansbury for help.
The flight back was a nightmare, something out of Neil Simon play, only there was no jokes to be found.
First, we almost got clobbered by some jerk in an SUV on our way to the airport. I was waiting at a light when I heard this godawful screeching and I see this huge vehicle got skidding by me sideways.
The air stunk of burned rubber as the loser righted himself and got back on the road, but I took it as a bad omen. And I was right.
Our flight out of Kona was delayed--and marked by horrendous turbulence--causing us to miss our connecting flight in LAX. From there, we tried to get on to one New York flight after another.
It was like the fall of Saigon, or Casablanca where everybody had to get onto a plane right now, this very second. But we didn't have the letters of transport.
While waiting in L.A., I found a laminated card that contained a prayer for people who travel on airplanes. One side was in English and the other was, I believe, in Hebrew.
I was tempted to keep it, since I'm so frightened of airplanes, but my sister encouraged me to bring back to the newsstand where I found it. They were no help, naturally, so I gave it to a cop by the security gate.
I know that prayer will never find its rightful owner, but I couldn't steal somebody else's prayer.
We got close to getting on the 1:30 pm flight, but they only had one seat and we didn't want to split up. We finally got on the 3pm flight and it was going fairly well until we got close to JFK and were told we had to wait for permission to land.
We were flying in circles over Jersey and I'm thinking of every possible disaster: midair collision, rocket attack, drunken small plane pilots, lightning bolts, wind shear, suicidal stewardesses, UFO abductions, the sky was the limit in my twisted imagination.
We finally landed at about midnight to a freezing hellhole of a town. I felt like I had been gone for ages, but still it seemed like I had just left.
Now how's this for irony: while my sister was absolute rock on the plane, she was frightened by the steep angle of the escalator in JFK. A few minutes ago we were five miles up in the air in a flying soda can, but that didn't bother her.
There is no logic to fear, but I think more people have died in plane crashes than in escalator accidents.
Like most vacations, I ate too much and spent too much, but there's no price tag on what I got out of this trip.
I want this vacation to mean more than just a winter tan and a stack of T-shirts from the ABC Store. I took a big step away from myself and I got a chance to look at myself.
I'm terrified in an airplane, but one thing this fear makes me do is look at how much time and energy I've wasted being angry about things in my past.
I thought if the worst does happen, do you want to die still angry at some jerk who crossed you back in high school?
I want to keep that insight without the insanity. I want the perspective without the panic. I want to change.
This is the New Year, so I've decided I'm going to have a clean slate for 2008. I know, I know, resolutions were made to be ignored, but I'm going to work on this one.
Just look at 2007: It started off roughly with the death of my father, but then I took two solo performance classes, culminating with a 30-minute piece, marked by 50th birthday with a big party and flew out to Hawaii.
For one thing, I've decided I'm going to take swimming lessons. I'm tired of watching, of thrashing around in the child's end of the pool.
I don't know exactly why I never learned to swim, but I was the youngest of four children and I think at one time I must have resisted getting into the pool and my parents let me get away with it.
I don't believe in the sink or swim approach, but I wish my folks had nudged me a little on this one. Instead, we all just said Robert doesn't swim and left it at that.
Well, Robert can fly, so he can swim, too. My niece learned how to swim at four and she told me that the instructor started off by making all the kids paddle in the water with cupped hands.
"We kept saying 'ice cream scoops, ice cream scoops,'" she told me.
Sounds good to me. I want to get more connected to the world, I want to do things instead of watching. The sea horses better look out because I want my ice cream scoops.
Hau'oli Makahiki Hou--Happy New Year to you mainlanders.