Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks


We didn't get to see the Macy's parade floats being inflated this year, but we did see a guy on stilts scratching his ass, so it wasn't a total loss.

My sister and I went up to 79th Street on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, in hopes of seeing the floats being brought to life.

It was an intimate little affair, with just us and several million other people who had the same idea.

We got close to the floats, we really did. But the crowd that circled around the Museum of Natural History was so big and so thick with humanity that the two of us, who share a deathly fear of being trampled, decided to skip this particular ritual.

I seem to recall that at one time this event wasn't so incredibly popular, that only a handful of people actually knew about it. That has definitely changed.

We tried to get in the perimeter from every possible angle and as we came down one of the avenues, we saw some of the members of Cirque Du Soleil setting up shop on the sidewalk.

This group included the aforementioned man on stilts who made a rather big production of relieving his itchy rear end, which made us think that this was part of the show. At least, we hoped it was, but we didn't stick around to catch the rest of his act.

It was fun, though, seeing all the people streaming through the streets and all the little kids getting so worked up about the parade.

During my round of holiday calls, I found out from my former sister-in-law (I still can't used to that idea)that her uncle, the infamous Uncle Duke died two weeks ago.

Uncle Duke was a character and a half, a huge man who said exactly what was on his mind, no matter how politically incorrect it might be. I'd quote some of his best lines, but I'm sure I'd offend somebody in cyberspace. It's hard to believe he's gone.

When Uncle Duke got on a roll, he was unstoppable and quite entertaining. One time, many years ago, he had my mother and I in stitches when he found his grand-nephew playing with a dishwasher magnet that looked like a small doll.

"This is for fruits," he declared as he scooped the little boy up in his arms.

Today we went out to Hicksville to have dinner with our cousin and her husband at a local restaurant, which was packed to the gills. We had a nice time, great food, and I'm happy to report that there were no terrorist attacks on the Long Island Railroad.

News reports said that terrorists involved were targeting New York "during the holiday season to create an opportunity for maximum carnage." Maximum carnage--just in time for the holidays!

As I got ready today I heard more details about the slaughter in Mumbai, where maximum carnage was clearly the objective.

Like most people hearing these reports, I was horrified, but that feeling intensified when my aunt told me that a woman who lives near her summer home in Berkshires was in Mumbai at the time of the attacks.

As of this morning her husband had not heard from her and my aunt had no message from him when she got home this evening.

I only met this woman once a few years ago, but actually knowing someone who is involved in this nightmare--even if only peripherally--increases the anxiety level by a few thousand notches. We later found out she had gotten out of Mumbai shortly before the slaughter began.

There's a part of me that keeps thinking things will change, the world will become a better place. Not overnight, of course, but slowly people will find ways of communicating with each other without bloodshed.

I felt that way when we crossed over into the 21st Century--a new century, for God's sake, surely we'll find a new way of doing things. Then 9/11 happened.

More recently, I was feeling positive about the new administration, that, despite the terrible economic picture, we were going to start over. And then this happens in Mumbai.

I found myself thinking of the old Simon & Garfunkel recording of "Silent Night-7 O'clock News," where the duo sings the beloved Christmas carol while a newscaster reads some of the worst headlines of 1966.

The list includes the escalating war in Vietnam, the death of Lenny Bruce, and the murder of nine student nurses in Chicago.

It was pretty scary when I first heard it 40 years ago, and the world has become a much more dangerous place since then, or so it seems to me.

It's nearly 1 AM on Friday, Thanksgiving is officially over, and the holiday shopping season is about to kick off.

It'll be subdued this year, most likely, given the economic meltdown that has spread out from Wall Street like the shock waves coming from the epicenter of an earthquake.

At least one retail analyst thinks the holiday shopping season is already over because it never got started in the first place.

Food banks are reporting a spike in the number of people coming in for meals and this includes people who once donated to the shelters and who are now forced by circumstance to eat there.

For the first time in ages, I don't have to work today. After all those years of working around the holidays, it's nice to kick back, sleep late, and properly digest my turkey dinner. And I'll make sure not to scratch my butt in public.

I'm thankful for the day off and the big meal, especially in a world where people are starving to death. I'm thankful for my family, which has grown smaller over the years. I'm thankful for my steady paycheck and the roof over my head.

I pray for people who don't have these things, who suffer in ways I could never imagine. It makes my own problems seem quite small indeed.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

All My Funds

They say there’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway and at these prices I’m not surprised.

I went to the theater the other night see in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and there was so much drama going on that it rolled off the stage and into my life.

The production stars John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and…Katie Holmes. Yes, that Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise’s wife, blah, blah, yak, yak, you know the drill.

“All My Sons” opened on Broadway in 1947, back when the average weekly salary was about 46 bucks and theater tickets were about seven. How much did our tickets cost? Why, funny you should ask. They went for a mere…$116 each.

Yes, that’s crazy, but we got them right before the stock market collapse, back in that strangely distant yet recent time, when costly theater tickets seemed like a manageable extravagance, rather than a certifiable act of insanity. What a difference a depression makes.

The theater was packed on this night, but I suspect there were a lot of people looking at the price on their ticket stubs, recalling their sinking retirement accounts and muttering, “what the hell was I thinking?”

Still, there’s nothing like the Broadway experience. I was walking down West 45th Street on way to the theater after a particularly trying day at work—which included a round trip to Norwalk, Conn.—and I perked up looking all the people streaming into theaters with their blazing marquees. You can’t get this kind of energy out of an I-Pod.

And we did get to see Katie Holmes. Now I know some of you lowlifes out there are probably thinking, “hell, for that kind of money you should get to sleep with Katie Holmes.”

Well, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You don't see me saying stuff like that, do you? Go wash your minds out with soap.

Now to be honest “All My Sons” isn’t Arthur Miller’s best work, but it deals with serious issues of responsibility and honor, and it marks a turning point in his career.

This was his second play, following the four-night demise of his first work, which was ironically titled “The Man Who Had All the Luck.” Miller had said that if “All My Sons” didn’t succeed, he would find another line of work. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

While it was written some 50-odd years ago, the story still resonates today. Joe Keller is a factory owner who orders his partner to ship defective airplane parts to the Defense Department during World War II, an act that leads to the deaths of 21 pilots. The partner goes off to jail while Keller is set free to enjoy prosperity after the war.

The issue of defense contractors certainly strikes a nerve in these days of Halliburton, only back then people who got our soldiers killed either went to the slammer or had the decency to kill themselves. Those were the days, my friend.

I had seen “All My Sons” a few years ago at the Westport Country House with Richard Dreyfuss and Jill Clayburg and I thought it was okay, but nothing special.

My favorite version of the story is the film with Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster, but that might have something to do with those two tremendous actors playing the lead roles.

The bad news started as soon as we sat down, cracked open our programs and found Diane Wiest would not be appearing in tonight’s performance.

How’s that? We shelled out all this money and now one of the top performers wasn’t going to show? I sat there fuming while my credit card gently wept.

Then the show started and…well, I wasn’t impressed. I enjoyed John Lithgow’s performance, but the director made some odd choices, staging the play like classical Greek theater.

I confess I didn’t enjoy Katie Holmes at all and I’m not just saying that to be a Katie hater (hata?). She came off as shrill and unnatural, but, looking back, I wonder how much of that was her fault and how much blame should go to the director.

Curtain Call

One of the other actors moved around the strange so oddly, doing this golf-swing pantomime that made me think of Ed Norton's bit in The Honeymooners when he stands up and addresses the ball: "Hel-lo, ball!"

There were echo effects that I found disruptive, incidental music that was distracting, and rear-projection that really wasn’t necessary.

Meanwhile, back in the audience, some loser behind us starts coughing all over my sister, drowning out the actors while spraying his germs all of the first 10 rows.

I've had enough problems with my health to be sympathetic, but this guy sounded like he unhooked himself from an iron long to be here. The show must go on applies to the actors, not the audience.

This guy should have taken a cue from Diane Wiest and stayed the hell home. Of course, she wasn’t paying 116 bucks to get it, so for that kind of money you’ll drag yourself off your death bed to make it to the show on time.

The cougher finally toned down to a mild gag. At intermission, we stood up to leave when I noticed my seat was stuck. I always lift my seat so people can get in and out of the aisle easier.

Only this thing wouldn’t budge. Finally, I yanked on it and the woman sitting behind me—I think she was the cougher’s wife—lets out this shriek—owwww!—like she's being chopped in half...which wouldn't have been a bad idea.

She had somehow managed to stretch her legs under my seat and then sat while I stood there in front of her struggling to lift the damn chair. And then she makes this awful noise, like Stinky from the old Abbott & Costello Show. (“Not so harrrrrd!”)

“I’m sorry,” I sputtered, mortified by any kind of attention. I was convinced there was going to be a scene, with the husband coughing curses all move me while I crushed his wife's head in my chair.

And what the hell was I sorry for? That she was an idiot? If you see a car coming toward you, genius, get out the way. Or better yet, stay put, and do us all a favor.

Fortunately, there were no further incidents and we watched the rest of the show in peace. Most audience got up at the end, of course, for the standing ovation, but I refused to budge from my seat.

The standing ovation used to be a special gesture, a sign that the performers and the playwright had gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Now people give the washroom attendant a standing ovation. Besides, I was afraid if I stood up the schmuck behind me would start screaming again.

So it wasn’t a magical night at the theater, but we had a good time. Now, however, we realize we can’t drop money on shows like this anymore. Looks like we’ll be doing local theater, puppet shows, and poetry readings for the duration.

I got an e-mail offering discount prices on “All My Sons,” dropping the price down to $64 bucks, but I deleted the thing without reading it. Just like my investment accounts, it’s best not to look at this stuff right now.

I finally got to see Diane Wiest, but only on the screen, in Synecdoche, New York, where the ticket was only 11 bucks, a steal by comparison. I thought about giving her a standing ovation, but I refrained.

There was one point in “All My Sons” where a character tells Keller how he was impressed by Joe’s factory, saying “it looked like GM.”

“I only wish it looked like GM,” Lithgow said with a chuckle.

The audience chuckled, too, only this was gallows humor, as we knew all too well that one of the titans of American industry now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.

But that line was written in different age, back when the American economy was booming, factories actually built things, people felt hopeful, and theater tickets didn’t cost 116 bucks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Safe Mode


I meant to be writing about something else tonight, but thanks to my crappy computer I'm putting that off until I know what the hell is going on.

I am on what the Dell tech guy calls "Safe Mode" though I'm not sure what that it is. I guess it means nothing bad can happen now, like being safe at home in baseball.

I wish they had safe mode for relationships and careers. Oops, did I say something stupid? That's okay, I said it in safe mode. Screwed up that big assignment? No problem; I was in safe mode at the time.

Then again I've been playing it safe for most of my life and it hasn't done me much good.

All I know is that I have been on the phone with tech support so often and for so long that I'm thinking of running for mayor of Mumbai.

I know just about everybody over there and I think I'm developing an Indian accent. I've got a campaign promise, too. Vote for me and I promise I'll stop calling...as long as you fix my computer.

I still can't believe how long this has been going on. It's been over a month and they still don't know what the hell is wrong with this piece of junk.

I've had total strangers come to my house on two separate occasions, perform major surgery on the computer and pronounce it ready for action...only to have it crap out on me again.

The computer people are supposed to call me back tonight in under an hour--ha!--and they'll probably want me to back up all my files and reinstall Windows. I am considering jumping out of the window. I don't feel like backing up my files tonight. I'm not in the mode.

I've been ranting and shouting most of the evening, but, strangely enough, that hasn't helped any. I got up feeling okay for a Monday, but it seems the day went to hell inside of a few hours.

I found out I have to do a road trip for work tomorrow. I wasn't too happy about that, as it is an arduous trip to an exceedingly uninteresting place, but then at least I still have a job...please, God...

Then I learned that my expense voucher for my last road trip did not go through, so I had to call our company's help desk, which, like Dell tech support, is located in India. Maybe all my calls are going to the same place.

I hate to sound like a geezer, oh, hell, who am I kidding? I love it. But it's just that there was a time when you filled out your expenses without going on line or talking to someone on the other side of the earth.

You filled out a form with a pen and handed the form and your receipts to your boss and a short time later you got your money. Why must every single thing we do be done online or with tech support?

Then on the way home tonight, the R train went into safe mode, or more like slow mode, while the express trains were routed on to the local line.

I couldn't call tech support from the subway car, but if I did, I'm sure I would have been talking to India.

I don't mean to sound xenophobic or bigoted, especially in this age of Obama, and if I have offended anyone I sincerely apologize. But it just feels like we're going about things in a totally wrong way.

Companies are hiring people overseas because they can pay them less. That means they're screwing people on both sides of the equation. And now with jobs so scare over here--Citigroup announced plans to sack 53,000 people--this kind of greed is even more repulsive.

I tried explaining to the voice on the other end of the phone that I bought this computer to make my life easier, but all I'm getting is misery. I don't want to live in safe mode. I want to live my life and stop talking to disembodied voices.

I feel like every time I get a handle on things, when I think I'm ready to handle whatever life is going to throw at me, something goes wrong and I flip out.

I think it's because I'm so damn dependent on this computer and I'm so helpless when it bites the dust.

I've got the phone pressed to my ear right now with the crappy Muzak playing. The shift supervisor is supposed to talk to me.

I guess he'll apologize and promise it'll never happen again and we'll resolve the issue, you can be sure of that. And then, of course, it'll happen again.

Whatever happens tonight, my next computer is going to be a Mac. That seems like a much safer mode.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Old Cowhand


Did you ever see someone go by and wonder what his story was?

We see God knows how many people in the course of a day and instantly forget the vast majority of them, but every so often someone sticks in your mind.

I had that experience the other morning when I was riding the R train to work and I saw a man wearing a cowboy hat and boots.

He was an older gentleman, easily in his seventies, wearing a jacket and tie with his cowboy attire. He sat down and took a book to read and I could see it was a western by Louis L’Amour, one of the all-time great cowboy writers.

I didn’t think people read westerns any more and the really strange thing is that man’s book itself looked old; like it was printed back when paperbacks cost 60 cents.

I confess I haven’t read much of L’Amour’s work, I admired how he strove for accuracy in his stories. He used to say that if he mentioned a spring in one of his books, then you could be sure that the spring really existed “and the water there is good to drink.”

And what a life he led: professional fighter and trainer, L’Amour traveled the country by rail and then traveled the world as a merchant seaman.

The old cowboy was minding his business, which I should have been doing, but I wanted to know more about him. Did he actually ride the range at one time—before he started riding the R? Or was he going through his second childhood?

I didn’t read too many westerns when I was growing up—I was more a fan of science fiction and private eye stories—but I loved western movies.

Some people tend to dismiss them as B-movies or horse operas--and many of them are--but some of the greatest American films have been westerns.

They deal with such powerful themes: honor, courage, love, greed, and evil. And some of America’s greatest filmmakers have made westerns, like John Ford, Anthony Mann, and Sam Peckinpah.

There are so many great films: High Noon, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, Ride the High Country, Will Penny—and that’s my short list.


I saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on a double bill with Shane at the old Carnegie Hall Cinema years ago. It was great hearing this audience of sophisticated Manhattan cineastes cheering wildly as John Wayne and Alan Ladd took on the bad guys.

Hey, Fellini may have been a genius, but, come on—what could possibly compare with Shane’s showdown with Jack Palance?

The Fifties were a good time for the western and I’m particularly fond of Anthony Mann’s westerns, such as The Man from Laramie, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73, and The Naked Spur, all of which starred James Stewart. They were understated and with real characters, as opposed to cactus clich├ęs.

Saddle Up

Jack Nicholson did a few westerns in his career and I recommend The Shooting, a 1967 low budget Roger Corman movie that co-starred Warren Oates, a fine actor who died much too soon.

I’ve never seen a film so determined to tell you as little as possible about what’s going on. In some many movies characters just about turn to the camera and explain everything to you, but not this flick.

I saw the movie again a few years back at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and I stuck around for a Q&A with the director Monte Hellman. One guy raised his hand, stood up and started to ask Hellman to explain the ending of the movie.

“I’ve been avoiding explaining this movie for nearly 30 years,” he said. “I’m not going to start now.”

I like spaghetti westerns—or is it Euro western?—though I consider a kind of sub-genre or variation on the theme. Sergio Leone is the master director of this breed, with The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon A Time in the West, and Duck, You Sucker.

Westerns used to dominate the TV schedule, too. I remember The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Branded, Have Gun Will Travel, and—though, God, how I’ve grown to hate this word—Maverick.


I did rent one season of Deadwood and enjoyed it immensely, but I must confess it was mighty strange to hear cowboys throwing around the f-bomb.

The western seemed to die overnight as cop movies moved in the genre’s turf. You can kill more people in a crime flick—machine guns and 9mm handguns do more damage than six guns. Carnage and mass destruction are the goals nowadays.

Kids don't play cowboy any more. I don't think they play anything in the real world any more. Do you get the feeling we've lost something?

It occurs to me now that years ago I saw another guy all done up in a cowboy outfit riding on the N train. But, unlike the older gentleman I saw last week, this other dude was one seriously mean hombre.

He was dressed entirely in black with a long coat and a Stetson and he sipped clear liquid out of a little glass bottle he held in his gloved hand.

He was muttering curses under his breath and then suddenly punched the window on one of the doors, inspiring several people to skedaddle and change their seats. No one complained when he finally got off the train. I never found out what his story was, but that's okay. This boy was plum loco.

The old cowhand got off at Lawrence Street, instead of riding off in the sunset and I never saw him again.

Coming home on the R train that night I sat across from a man with muttonchops—not the food, but huge patches of whiskers on either side of his face. He looked like a Civil War general. (R must stand for "Retro.")

There was another guy sitting near us who kept making these weird animal noises—ack! ack! He seemed fairly normal, whatever that means, with a brief case across his lap.

He just kept making these damn noises. It was irritating as hell, and I know I should have ignored him—like the muttonchop man clearly was—but it was irritating me something fierce.

I was tired after a long day and I was tired of the way people behave in public—shouting at the top of their lungs, screeching along with their Ipods, or making strange noises.

People spit, curse, hustle you for money—you ride the trains enough you’re bound to hear somebody shouting “Excuse me, ladies and gentleman…” before putting his hand out.

So as I stood by the door to get off at Bay Ridge Avenue, I gave the guy an “ack!” right back. He gave me a dirty look and mumbled something I couldn’t make out.

Now, I will admit that this was a very stupid thing for me to do. First, it’s dangerous as hell. I’ve lost track of how many killers have been described with a variant on the phrase “he seemed harmless,” or “he was always so quiet.”

But more importantly, it was just plain mean of me to mock someone who was clearly not well. Whatever point I was trying to prove was completely lost on this guy. I’m ashamed of my behavior.

That's not the cowboy way.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My President

It's official--Barack Obama has been elected the next president of the United States.

I have never more proud of being an American than I am tonight.

Not only did we elected our first African-American president, but we're also pushing those horrible Bush year behind us, flushing them down the sewer of history where they so rightly belong.

I still can't believe it. I was so worried that John McCain and that card-carrying freak he chose--or was told to choose--as a running mate, Sarah "Winky" Palin, were actually going to steal the White House and continue the Bush nightmare of war, divisiveness, and lies.

I told my sister that if McCain had won, I would be calling her tomorrow from Canada (here I come, Jen!).

But it was not to be. Obama overcame the attacks on his family, his religion, his name, for God's sake, and yes, on his race.

These neo-clown sleaze bags had to hop through their own asses to keep from saying "don't vote for the black guy," but make no mistake, that's exactly what they were saying: "don't vote for the black guy."

They wrote books filled with lies about him. They actually criticized him for his overseas popularity, as if international respect is something to be ashamed of.

We heard bare-faced lies about so-called "real Americans" who wrap themselves in the flag as they wipe their rear ends with the Constitution.

Obama had an entire news network in the form of Rupert Murdoch's "fair and balanced" atrocity, Fox News, gunning for him, throwing out the Madrassa fantasy at every turn.

It was awful to watch John McCain degrade himself so thoroughly, signing up with the Karl Rove branch of the GOP and throwing mud when people wanted hope. He even hired on the same people who had slimed him in South Carolina.

And that ridiculous woman--God, what a monstrosity. I'm so glad that America said "thanks, but no thanks" to that imbecile.

I just listened to McCain's concession speech and I have to say that he sounded like the John McCain of old, the man I respected even when I didn't agree with him. It's a shame he didn't conduct himself with the same kind of dignity throughout his campaign. Who knows what would have happened?

But, no, he chose the dark side, so we had tales of Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright; feigned outrage about Obama's lipstick on pig remark that actually gained traction--until reality, in the form of the stock market meltdown--shook America out of her stupor.

These pathetic attacks have no meaning when people are terrified of losing their homes.

Horror stories about scary black reverends or old Sixties radicals are nothing compared to watching your retirement savings evaporate overnight. Joe the Plumber disappears when Fred the Repo Man shows up at your door.

President-Obama is speaking now as I write this. It's such a shame that his beloved grandmother could not be here with him to see this historic night. But our loved ones are always close even after they leave this world.

After all the celebrations, the new president will have his full. His supporters expect so much and we have this wrecked economy and two wars to contend with.

"We know the challenges tomorrow will bring the greatest challenge of our lives," he just said, and he's so right.

But that's for another time. Right now, it's time to rejoice. So, with apologies to James Brown, said it loud, Barack Obama is my president and I'm proud.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November One


When I was a police reporter in Pennsylvania, whenever I heard the call for “November One” on the scanner, I knew somebody had just died.

“November One” was the code for the county coroner so if I heard the code for a car accident (I think it was 10-15) followed by the coroner’s radio handle, I knew that we had a fatal accident—and a most likely a page-one story.

Yesterday was Halloween and today—November One-is All Saints Day, so I guess it’s not surprising that I would think about a man who worked so closely with the dead.

This is also the Day of the Dead in Mexico, or Dia De Los Muertos, where friends and family come together to honor deceased loved ones.

And--my thanks for Flatbush Gardner for reminding me--today is also the 90th anniversary of the Malbone Street Wreck, where nearly 100 people died in the worst transit disaster in New York City history.

It happened in Brooklyn, just outside Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. After the accident, the name of the street was changed to Empire Boulevard and that's the name it carries to this day.

"November One" seems like a good handle for a coroner.

Burning Bright

A few nights ago I was walking down my street when I smelled smoke. I looked up the alley of the home I was passing and saw a cardboard box burning away, completely engulfed in flames.

It looked so unusual and primitive blazing away in this modern setting. There was no one around and in my rather overactive imagination I thought of some kind of strange ritual.

Then I remembered that this was the home of an adorable little girl who had died over the summer. I have no idea what was in that burning box, but I am convinced it had something to do with that beautiful child whose life was so cruelly snuffed out.

Perhaps it was something so strongly connected with the little girl that her parents couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, but the idea of throwing it into the trash was unthinkable. It's like changing the name of a street after something terrible has happened.

So they destroyed it completely, exerting some tiny bit of control over a world that must look brutally chaotic to them.

Also, I believe these people are Buddhists and, according to one web site I checked, tradition calls for family members to burn the deceased possessions 100 days after the funeral so he or she can enjoy them in the next life.

If that's so, I hope this sweet little girl has all her dolls and toys with her now and having fun every day in a place where November never happens.

I was recently thinking about Eliza, a woman I met a few years ago when she was running a movie-goers club. One Sunday a month, Eliza would organize a group of people to see a movie and then go to lunch or dinner. (I think we did breakfast once, too.)

It was the first internet-related group I ever joined and I had some great times with it. I met new people, saw some good flicks, and ate at some nice restaurants.

The first movie I saw with this group was Spellbound, a documentary about spelling bees, not the Hitchcock classic.

Eliza was waiting outside to greet any stragglers and direct them into the theater and then afterward about a dozen of us went out to eat. This group meant a lot to me, especially in a city where it can be very hard to make new friends.

Each month, Eliza sent out an e-mail saying what movie we’d be seeing and what restaurant we’d go to afterward. She’d always end up by saying “Have fun—and that’s an order.” Great advice, when you think about how short life can be.

One time in the winter we went to a theater where the heating system had broken down. A lot of people in the group complained about being cold, so after the movie Eliza marched up to the manager’s office and got free passes to another flick for every member in the group. She was all kinds of brassy.

I should mention here that I wasn’t cold at all, having just put away a nice steamy bowl of turkey chili, which kept me warm for the duration of the movie. But I took the pass anyway.

A Golden Heart

Eliza once invited me to a birthday dinner she was throwing for herself at Guantanamera, a fabulous Cuban restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. I accepted and met up with her and two of her friends.

I got the distinct feeling that a lot of invited guests had blown this party off, which is pretty crass, actually, but between the great food and the jumping music, nobody seemed to mind.

Eliza ran several media-related events and when I got laid off from a job, she gave me a freelance editing gig on her e-mail newsletter. My first attempt at editing this publication was disastrous, but I improved quickly.

I didn’t get rich doing this, but I put it on my resume to show prospective employers that I was working instead of sitting around playing video games all day. As a result, there were no blank spots on my resume.

I eventually drifted from the movie group, got steady work and, as all too often in life, I lost contact with Eliza.

Then last September, I went to a small theater on the Upper West side to see a production of “The Innocents” and two other ghost stories, and there was Eliza, who had also joined this particular group.

She told me she had disbanded the movie group because it was too much work organizing the thing. We talked about getting together sometime and a short time later she sent me an e-mail inviting me to join her new sports Meetup group. She always had something going on.

I honestly meant to join, but I’m not into sports and I belonged to so many Meetup groups already that I didn’t want to sign up for any more. But I told myself that I’d keep in touch with Eliza.

Two months ago I received an email from Eliza’s account, but it turned out to be from her sister. She was writing to say that Eliza had died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism. She was 45 years old.

I meant to write something about Eliza on that day, but I didn’t, and it is to my great shame that I am finally discussing my friendship with her two months after she died.

But then I meant to stay in touch with her last week and I didn’t, so all I can say now is rest in peace, Eliza.

Last week I went to a wake for a woman who was related to a friend of mine. My friend was about the only person in the room that I knew. It was an odd sensation, going to a wake after burying my parents.

I felt detached, away from everything, and I suppose I was. But I'm glad I went. A little bit of effort can touch people so deeply.

At one point I went downstairs to use the men’s room and I was amazed at the size of the place. As I was leaving, I saw the funeral director and told him what a great facility he had.

“It’s a good place to stay out of,” he said with a laugh.

On the way out I picked up a funeral card for the departed. This had an image of Jesus on one side and a poem on the other. The last stanza of the poem reads:

“A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands at rest,
God broke our hearts to show us,
He only takes the best.”


That could be said about a lot people I’ve lost. Something to think about on November One.