Monday, January 26, 2009

Dell and Highwater

Well, my computer has crapped out on me once again.

I made the mistake of listening to this disembodied voice from Dell Tech Support and now instead of a computer that shuts off unexpectedly, I have a pile of junk that doesn't come on in the first place.

This has forced me to blog from an undisclosed location, kind of like Dick Cheney.

I can't believe this nightmare is still going on. Now Dell is going to send yet another technician over to my house to replace yet another part. What the hell is left to replace?

I've been screaming at them to give me a new computer for months, but apparently they think the Doctor Frankenstein approach is better.

I thought the whole point of having a computer was to make your life easier, you know, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, all that crap. My life has become anything but easier. The damn computer is on my mind all day.

At this point, I'd take Hal, the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sure he was a homicidal maniac, but at least he worked. That's more that I can say for the digital paperweight I've got sitting in my house.

I don't know when it's going to get fixed, I don't know if any of my files will survive the butchery that's been done--and has yet to be done--to the machine.

It was particularly annoying being amongst my fellow Brooklyn bloggers on Sunday--great event, Louise--knowing that my machine was on the fritz.

Naturally the computer goes down just when I had to get in touch with UPS about a delivery and I was forced to use their "help" line. I waited 30 solid minutes before screeching a string of obscenities and burying my phone in the backyard.

My aunt, who doesn't own a computer, is always complaining that operators at so many companies and government agencies always tell her to "check the website" when she wants information. I think I know how she feels.

Enough, you bastards! Just give me a new computer and get the hell out of my life. My next purchase will be a Mac and I will never say the word Dell again unless it is part of a nursery rhyme.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes, We Did

"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
--President Barack Obama

So the day has finally arrived: Barack Obama is now the President of the United States.

President Barack Obama. I like the sound of that. President Obama.

This was a work day for me, but you could tell things were different around the city, around the country, around the world.

I walked by Wall Street on my lunch hour and saw a crowd of people standing before a giant TV screen mounted by the New York Stock Exchange watching Barack Obama being sworn in.

Trinity Church, just a block away, had speakers set up outside so people could hear the Inauguration, and there was a TV inside for those who had time to watch.

This is truly a great day for America. We have sworn in our first African-American president, a young man who promises change and hope. We need a lot of both around here.

President Obama will be inheriting an economy in shambles and a world in dire conditions. I hope--I truly pray--he can handle this incredible burden.

I thought it was particularly moving when, during his speech, the new president recalled the dark days of the Revolutionary War.

He quoted George Washington:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

I thought of a trip I made to Valley Forge as a Cub Scout, where Washington endured those terrible days and nights. We were just kids, so, to be honest, the story had very little meaning to us back then.

Now, though, I see that we are once again in dark times. I know we came through those times before and we will do it again.

It's going to be tough. The new president will have to make unpopular decisions and he will have his every move examined and attacked by a right wing media machine that spreads lies wrapped up in the American Flag.

They helped get us into the current mess, but that hasn't slowed them down at all. President Obama must get the truth out before these scoundrels can tear it limb from limb.

I don't want to say much about President Obama's predecessor, but I must confess that when I saw the now thankfully former president pause to wave before entering the helicopter that would take him away from public life, I began screaming at my television.

"Get out!" I shrieked. "Go, damn it, go! Nobody is going to miss you! Just go, you imbecile!"

I sounded like Ralph Kramden yelling at Ed Norton and I wanted to hurl my shoes at my TV. But I refrained.

I believe that before moving into the White House, President Obama should get a priest, a rabbi, a mullah, a shaman, a Buddhist monk, a witch doctor and any other holy figure to say prayers, cast out demons and do whatever else they need to do to cleanse 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue of all the lingering evil left behind by the Texas Fool.

But enough of this negativity. Today is a day for celebration. Tomorrow the real work begins.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Brain? No Problem!

"First of all, I don't see America having problems." --George W. Bush, interview with Bob Costas at the 2008 Olympics, Beijing, China, Aug. 10, 2008

I saw a poster for the horror movie My Bloody Valentine 3D in my local subway station the other day that warned of "graphic, brutal, horror violence and grisly images throughout."

I don't know about the movie, but when I saw those words, I thought to myself, God, what a perfect description of the Bush Administration.

Graphic, brutal horror violence? Four years in Iraq covers that and as far as the grisly images, we've got Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, the Katrina fiasco, and Dick Cheney's sneering mug for starters. Maybe we should think of Bush as Jason or Freddy Krueger.

So, yes, the Bush presidency qualifies as an eight-year-long slasher movie, which, thank God, is now coming to end.

It always amazed me that two people I know in two different areas of my life both called George Bush by the exact same nickname: President Fuckface.

Admittedly, it's childish, immature, and disrespectful. But then so is George Bush and he worked hard to earn that vile title.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog, which I started when I had dreams of being a newspaper columnist. That's a bit ironic when you think about it, as the Internet is helping to destroy newspapers.

In the entry, "Coronation Day," I wrote about Bush being sworn in for the nightmare's second term. (I nearly wrote "turd" instead of "term." How appropriate.)

"What happened to my country?" I asked all those years--and lives--ago. "I turned away for a second and it turned into Mayberry 666. What the f...?"

Those were scary times. We had a president lying us into a disastrous war, a media too cowed to call him on it, and a right wing propaganda machine working full tilt to push the White House fabrications into the brains of an all-too-willing populace.

Anyone who disagreed with the Bush mob on any issue whatsoever was labeled a traitor. It was a new age of McCarthyism, where fear replaced logic and personal attacks replaced reasoned debate.

While the 9/11 attacks were invoked on every possible occasion to justify the invocation of every crackpot neocon theory, the actual architect of those attacks that killed 3,000 people--including several thousand in New York--was never apprehended.

That would be the bin Laden guy, in case you don't remember, or as he's come to be known, Osama been Forgotten. Smoke 'im out? Wanted dead or alive? Ringing any bells?

It's been quite a run: Tax cuts for the rich. My Pet Goat. Halliburton. Deregulation of environmental laws. Mission Accomplished. The outing of Valerie Plame, a real act of treason, which the mindless flag-wavers managed to ignore, downplay and lie about.

Remember the Terri Schiavo disgrace, when that imbecile came flying up from Texas to "save" a woman who was clearly brain dead--kind of like Bush & Co.--just to placate the gaggle of anti-abortion psychos how had camped outside the hospice where she lay in a persistent vegetative state?

As Randi Rhodes pointed out, Bush had earlier gotten a briefing that said "bin Laden to determined to strike in U.S." only instead of flying up to Washington to fight the terrorist threat, Fuckface--oops, I'm sorry, President Fuckface--chose to stay back in Texas and play cowboy.

During the Bush years, the reins of the government were turned over to conservative "think" tanks who inflicted their destructive fantasies on an unsuspecting world.

"...fasten your seatbelts," I wrote back in '05. "It's going to be a bumpy four years."

The Iraqi disaster called for us to start a war in the Middle East with the goal of making us become a dominant player in the region. It was a conservative wet dream that cost the lives of 4,000 Americans and God knows how many innocent Iraqis.

And let's not forget the thousands of American soldiers who were injured and maimed and who will need some kind of medical care for the rest of their lives.

I was unemployed at the time in '05 and I wrote that "if I can't get a job here, I'll go to Iraq and become a coffin maker. Those suckers have got to be busy."

We had the Department of "Justice" scandal, where loyal drones were given key positions over qualified attorneys, a move straight out of the Heritage Foundation playbook that called for loyalty over ability.

The Christian right was given wide access to the government in attempt to turn this country into a theocracy. The American Flag and the Holy Bible both became property of the Republican Party.

So now the nightmare is almost over. The horror movie is about to end and Fuckface is ready to ride off into a twisted sunset, leaving behind a battered nation, a wrecked economy and a shell-shocked planet.

To borrow from Shakespeare, nothing in George Bush's presidency became him like the leaving it. He is without a doubt the worst president in the history of this country and his passing is cause for great celebration.

Be gone, you worthless little man, go and don't come back. But leave that Bible and the flag. They never really belonged to you and your ilk and they never will.

I ended my posting four years ago with the words "God help America." That still applies, thanks to the Bush crowd.

There will be a new team in charge as of Tuesday and, God willing, we'll be free of all those grisly images.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

'Be Seeing You'

And now the Prisoner is finally free.

Patrick McGoohan, who starred in The Prisoner, my favorite television show, died yesterday in California.
He was 80 years old.

McGoohan, who was born in Astoria, was a veteran of stage, screen and TV, winning two Emmys for his work on Columbo .

This guy was beyond cool, he was solid ice.

I remember him first from Secret Agent, a spy show that, at McGoohan's insistence, went against the Bond formula of guns, women, and mindless explosions.

His John Drake character was gritty and didn't hesitate to employ such less-than-sporting tactics as blackmail to put his opponents out of commission.

I also remember seeing him in The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, where he played a priest, Dr. Syn (oy...) in an 18th Century English farming community, who fights the king's harsh taxes in the guise of the Scarecrow, a kind of British version of Zorro.

My mother never forgave him for his behavior in The Three Lives of Thomasina, a kid's movie about the eponymous feline. I tried to explain to her that (a) it was just a movie and (b) things turned out all right in the end.

But Mom didn't want to hear it. This guy tried to bump off a kitty and he was marked for life in her book.

But my favorite McGoohan project was hands down, The Prisoner. I am one of the legion of fans of the cult TV show that debuted in 1967 as a summer replacement for the Jackie Gleason Show and retains its importance to this day.

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, McGoohan plays a spy who quits the business, only to be drugged and hauled off to this bizarre location called "The Village," where, now called "Number 6," he is held against his will until he says why he resigned.

The Village looks just like a small seaside town, but people are drugged, tortured, and treated like lab rats. Number 6 refuses to knuckle under, declaring that "I will not pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered!" as he tried in vain each week to escape.

We used to vacation in the Poconos and we used to pretend that the nearby Mount Airy Lodge was the Village. If you ever saw the place in its heyday, you know this wasn't much of a stretch.

I could easily imagine Number 6 running through your host with the most in the Poconos, while being pursed by Rover, the malevolent beach ball that used to roll right over its victims.

Everyone in the Village gives this little salute, like making the OK sign and saying "be seeing you" whenever they parted company. It was meant to appear cheery, but it could make your skin crawl.

When I was in grammar school, I got into the habit of greeting one of the brothers with that salute, to a point where he would look at me expectantly whenever he saw me in the schoolyard.

The scariest thing about the set-up is the constant message that says all you have to do is conform and everything will be fine. The Village has grown a lot bigger since then.

I loved everything about the show: the theme music, the opening credits, that funky car, our hero drove, and the weekly introduction of his latest nemesis, the new Number 2.

Each week, Number 6 would angrily declare to a dark sky "I am not a number; I am a free man!" while Number 2 responded with an evil laugh. My mom had no use for the show, but she used to say that line every now and then, having heard it so many times.

The final episode, where the identity of Number 1 is revealed and we find out who was behind all this, is a classic. I managed to miss this episode twice in my life.

The first time around the last episode was preempted by some sporting event and when the series came around again the next year, we were on a family vacation--probably in the Poconos.

I finally did catch up with the last show and it was out of control. From I'm reading, fans in England were so unhappy with the twisted climax that McGoohan had to leave the country for a time.

The show has aged incredibly well, in both its appearance and its theme. Looking around today, you could almost consider it a warning of what was to come and what now is.

Rest in peace, Number Six. Thanks for all the great work.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Wise Still Seek Him

Wikipedia tells me that an epiphany is "the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something."

It's a great concept, it really is, but I'm not going to wait around for one to show up any time soon. I've done that for too long.

Today marks the second anniversary of my father's death. It feels so distant and not just by time; I feel emotionally detached from my dad's passing.

In some ways that distance is good. I am losing some of the anger I had toward him. What's the use of holding on to it?

And, as the economy continues to spiral into oblivion, I think more and more of the stories he told us about growing up during the Great Depression.

Perhaps we should call it the First Great Depression, given the nightmare scenario being played out of the world's financial markets.

I've been interviewing financial analysts for an story I'm working on and the news is pretty scary.

"The difference between the Depression and what's going on today," one man told me, "is that now you can't open the windows in the tall office buildings."

Another analyst told me he was against any stimulus package, advising that we should cut the dying industries now and move on.

"You've got to take the pain," he declared. "You've got to remove the cancer."

My dad knew a lot about pain--both giving and receiving. He used to talk about families being thrown out on the street; about my grandmother heating up flour and water in a pot and serving it for supper because that was all she had.

He told me about how my grandfather would leave the house during the holidays and do whatever he could to make sure his family had a decent Christmas. Of course, back then, children got fruit and nuts in their stockings, not computer games, cell phones or iPods, and were very grateful for it.

As a child used to getting toys, toys, and more toys every year, I couldn't begin to understand what my dad was talking about.

He told me that landlords were so desperate back then, they would offer people one month's free rent just to get them to move into their buildings.

My grandfather would take advantage of the offer, my dad said, and then move the whole family into another building as soon as that first month was up.

When I was a kid I kind of half-listened to those stories because they seemed so unreal, so far away from my world of three square meals a day and a roof over my head. I don't feel that way anymore.

Yesterday was also the Christian holiday of Epiphany and I attended an evening mass at Trinity Church, which is becoming a second home to me. While I'm still officially a Roman Catholic, I do love Trinity, but I suspect that has a lot to do with the really special people there and not the particular brand of Christianity.

The service was quite lovely, with a choir singing such hymns as "We Three Kings." I hemmed and hawed about staying late after work, but I'm glad I did.

Keep Watching The Skies

Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones--he's one of the people I'm talking about--gave a fine sermon where he told us about a Christmas card he received that simply said, "the wise still seek Him." He encouraged us to do the same, to keep looking to the bright star shining in the sky.

I'm really enjoying my rediscovery of Christianity. I'm doing this by choice, as opposed to my experience in Catholic school, where we were terrorized by psychotic nuns who threatened our bodies with beatings and our souls with eternal damnation.

They nailed you in this life and the next.

So the new year is one week old and my resolutions--along with my nerves--are getting a bit frayed. I am not looking for epiphanies in 2009, although I'll glad accept any that happens to come along.

No, I'm focusing on gradual improvement in my life. New Year's Day was the starting gate, not the finish line.

I have cut down dramatically on my intake of diet colas in the last few days, which probably explains why I feel so rotten.

I want to cut down on the anger, too, and I'm sure less caffeine in my life will help, but right now the idea of trying to remain calm while going through caffeine withdrawals seems like trying to climb a mountain while wearing roller skates.

I always knew this stuff was bad for me, but I read an article on some health site that said quite plainly that if you're drinking four or more colas a day, you're addicted to caffeine. I didn't like the sound of that.

I knew I couldn't go cold turkey; that's an epiphany by force. It's never worked before, so I'm opting for the slow and steady approach.

I'm been trying to stay in the present, trying to keep the past from eating into my future. It's not an easy task I've chosen for myself, but like my diet cola diet, I know that ultimately I'll be better for it. Just feels like it's a long walk to the finish line.

I've been having a hell of a time getting this post done, thanks to this lousy Dell computer of mine. But then saying "lousy Dell computer" is the height of redundancy.

I've been doing a lot of fuming and a bit of swearing, but I've also been catching myself, stopping the rage by telling myself that "change happens now--not tomorrow." No miracle cure, but I can say that I've been semi-successful.

I had a bit of a set-back on the personal development front. I was thinking of taking the Solo Performer III class at the People's Improv Theater. I love the teacher, I've enjoyed the first two classes, and I've met a lot of cool people.

But part of me didn't feel like committing to another 8-week class and I've got a several other projects going that I would really like to finish. However, instead of just making the decision not to take the class this semester, I debated and weighed the pros and cons until the class sold out.

This is something my shrink calls "win by losing" and I don't like it one bit.

I hate letting things happen as opposed to taking action. Best bud Hank told me that if I really wanted to take the class I would have signed up for it. And he's right. I told him how upset I was by my failure to take decisive action.

"Cut yourself a break," he said.

That's good advice. There's a big difference between taking the pain and asking for it.

That almost sounds like an epiphany.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Year I Stop Hating Myself

"New Year's Day is every man's birthday."
--Charles Lamb.

So now we begin a new year.

It’s freezing cold in New York on this first day of 2009 and it was absolutely sub-arctic last night as I rode home on the train.

But I didn't sit home on my rear end and watch TV, which is a good start for the new year. No excuses.

I went to a great party with great people and some very nice cats and I happily survived the ride home on the subway.

The F train was jammed and one guy next to me was reading Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich—one of the earliest self-help books--and making all sorts of notations, while another guy across from me was reading Consolation of Philosophy.

It was a pretty literate crowd, until a bunch of drunken high schoolers got on and uttered ever sentence at the top of their voices.

They were apparently looking for someone named Emma, because at every stop one young lady stuck her head out the door and screamed “Emma! Get on the train!” for the whole platform to hear.

Either there was a major breakdown in communications or there was more than one Emma in the group.

And now it's 2009. My pocket '08 pocket calendar is battered and torn, wiped out from a year's worth of my abuse and ready for the trash bin.

This book is like the Cliff Notes version of my year, listing appointments, phone numbers, addresses, and various duties I had to fulfill over the last 12 months.

I still haven't joined the Blackberry crowd and I get a kick out of the looks on people's faces when I take this thing out and actually start writing something down instead of pressing buttons.

Now it's time to get a new one, complete with more inspiring quotes like the one from Charles Lamb. It looks like we're going to need a lot of inspiration.

Just about every analyst I’ve read is saying that the economy is going to take an even deeper dive this year. I'm not sure why were even celebrating last night if things are going to suck so hard.

That's kind of scary for me as I was laid off in January 2008 and I would dearly love to take a year off from that experience.

The predictions are so dire, I wonder if we should all ban together and agree to skip right over to 2010. I won't tell if you won't.

But it’s not the time to be negative. I’m sitting at home in the early afternoon, still in my pajamas, and preparing to make--yes, really--my new year’s resolutions.

I will join the millions of others (suckers? fools? optimists?) who will make grand promises for 2009—lose weight, save more money, cure world hunger, end all wars, clean out the garage, and so forth.

Yes, I know, it's a waste of time and the odds are so stacked against us New Year’s resolutionaries why should I even bother.

These articles say that a staggering number of people who talk big on January 1 will crap out on their solemn oaths by the time Cupid shows his bare ass to the world in February.

Stacked Deck

It’s a pretty sobering statistic, but I still see a benefit to starting with a clean slate. Even if you don’t make good on all your promises, you’re trying to change for the better. Maybe a few of them will stick and what the hell else are you going to do anyway?

One expert said that you start with big changes, not small ones, because is “likely to yield immediate, noticeable benefits that will inspire more positive change.”

I’m thinking now of a sermon I heard at Trinity Church a few months ago. The reverend was telling us how God wants us to do more with our lives.

“We can always do more,” he said. “God wants us to love ourselves more.”

When I heard that I immediately felt tears forming in my eyes. Love myself more? I thought. I don’t love myself at all. Deep down, I hate myself.

It took a while, but that sermon got me thinking. I can see where so much my unhappiness stems from the fact that I don’t like myself, that I consider myself unworthy of all the good things in life.

When you start to love yourself, then you can really change yourself. A change you can believe in.

I can go over why exactly I have these negative feelings, but I'd much rather throw out the garbage than roll around in it.

One thing that fascinates me is my mind's ability to instantly dig up a negative thought or memory. I'll be feeling good about something and my inner saboteur will immediately throw down a bad memory, like we're playing some kind of sick gin game. It's time to deal myself out.

I have a great list of things I want to accomplish in this new year, from eating better to finally finishing my novel. But I think first and foremost, I want to stop the self-loathing because it stifles all hope of making your life better.

And this is more than just smiling at my reflection in the mirror every morning and saying “how’s it going, big guy?”

It requires a commitment from me to change some of the habits that lead to the downward spiral.

So, for example, I want to finish the novel--fine, finish the damn thing.

That means get to work. Do your research, make the phone calls, do the rewrites and find an agent.

Don’t come home and read the emails and screw around on YouTube half the night and then tell myself, “hey, I wrote all night and I didn't watch TV at all.”

If you’re staring on some mindless nonsense on a screen, guess what, Einstein? You’re watching TV!

Action has to replace fantasy in my life. Actually doing something is a hell of a lot more satisfying than daydreaming about it. The past has to stay where it is—in the past, while I live in the now. I will stop breathing life into ancient memories.

I'm going to make mistakes along the way; we all do. But I'll admit my mistake, try to make amends, and move the hell on--as opposed to crucifying myself on the cross of self-pity and inviting the world to throw bricks at my bleeding carcass.

New Year’s Eve can be tough when you’re single. I was on the subway platform last night when I saw a young couple getting all smoochy and I rolled my eyes, thinking, please control yourselves.

But why should they? They weren’t breaking any laws. They were in love. It was just me being jealous and whiny about how I can’t find anybody and I’m alone on New Year’s Eve.

Gosh, maybe if I put more effort—a sincere effort--into finding some one of my own, I wouldn’t even notice what other couples are doing. So when Cupid unveils his bloated bottom on Feb. 14, I can moon the little bastard right back.

I’ve got a laundry list of things I want to do this year, like improving my diet, going out more, getting organized—both in my head and around the house—but the first thing I want to do is to start liking myself.

Yes, you've heard it all before, and you'll probably hear it all again. But someday I might surprise myself and get it right.