Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crash Sight

“Love is an attempt to change a piece of a dream-world into reality.”
--Henry David Thoreau

What does it mean when someone dies in a dream?

It is some subconscious message that you want them to die? Or is death in a dream a stand-in for change?

I had these questions this week when I dreamed about a former crush of mine whom I had not seen or spoken with in seven years.

This woman--we’ll call her Mary Jane--never returned my affection, but she was always ready to laugh at my jokes and call me when she needed someone to talk to.

I hinted at, but never really told her of my feelings for fear of losing whatever relationship we had, but I kept hoping and hoping that I’d win her over. Brace yourself for a shock, but my hoping didn’t do me any good.

For when it came to love, sex and marriage, Mary Jane, like so many woman in my life, made sure to get it all from somebody else. The last time I heard from her was in 2002, when she called me to whine about her then-boyfriend dumping her.

That was very stressful time of my life. September 11 was still a fresh wound at this time and it was a bad memory for me, since I was standing across the street when the planes hit.

My mother was very ill then and she would eventually die in July of ’02. So I was kind of thrilled to hear from Mary Jane, praying like some desperate little puppy that she would finally see me for the prize catch that I am.

During our phone conversation, I told her that I had always been crazy about her, and she was so surprised, no, really? Why, she had no idea…a total mystery to her…a shocking revelation…ah, screw you, sweetheart.

We talked about getting together soon, but I never heard from her again. I found out that the boyfriend had taken her back and they were getting married.

So Mary Jane managed to call in the period between the two worst events of my life—9/11 and my mother’s death—and talk about herself.

I wrote off Mary Jane and for the most part, I kept her out of my life. I did the occasional Google search for her name, but even that ran eventually ran its course like a virus.

But then Mary Jane made a surprise return to my life on Thursday, in both reality and fantasy.

I learned that she had been laid off from her job at New England newspaper-- along with about 100 other people in yet another sign of this industry’s demise.

When I got the news, perhaps—just perhaps--I felt the briefest, tiniest surge of schadenfreude about her situation before I began to shudder at the thought of anyone being out of work right now.

The job situation is so dismal these days the employment numbers read more like a casualty list from the front. Today it’s you, tomorrow it’s you, and no one is above the slaughter.

And then that night I dreamed about Mary Jane. Specifically, I dreamed she had been killed while flying some strange one-man aircraft.

In the dream I was reading a newspaper account of the accident, which said Mary Jane was adjusting a video camera to aim at herself—some kind a flight recorder I suppose—when the plane suddenly dipped to the left and smashed to the ground.

Hard Landing

I “saw” the wreckage, but nothing else, thank God. It was just a small pile of smoldering debris; it was hard to believe anyone could fly in that thing.

And then I was walking on some country road, which I was believe was close to the crash site, and I started crying.

I’m sorry I was so angry, I thought. I’ll see you soon, Mary Jane. And maybe you’ll love me in the afterlife.

I woke up shuddering, convinced for a second that Mary Jane was actually deceased. It took a few moments before I realized that she was okay, but I was still shaken by this nightmare. I had actually killed somebody in my mind.

I'm terrified of flying and this fear, combined with the recent news of plane crashes, plus an NBC special I watched about a Concorde crash, probably all combined to create the deadly airplane vision in my mind.

I’ve been going through some strange times recently regarding some of my ex-girlfriends. I learned that one woman I had treated terribly had become a lesbian; and another one whom I despised for going out of her way to humiliate me was happily married with a child.

In my little world, this last beast does not deserve to be happy, but should rightly be rotting in some Eastern European dungeon for crimes against my masculinity. Really have to lay off Google...

It’s interesting to note the video camera as the cause of Mary Jane's dream death, which harks back to my real-life experience with her Jane being self-centered and uncaring.

So was I subconsciously hoping Mary Jane would die because she rejected me? I was angry with her, but, hell, that’s pretty much passed.

The shrinks say that we appear as every one and everything in our dreams, so in addition to being the mourner, I’m also the victim, the demolished plane, and even the strange lady I saw walking by me just before I woke up. (What the hell was with her, anyway, and why did she do a double take when I walked by?)

Perhaps the “death” was as a substitute image for Mary Jane losing her job because it can be such a traumatic event. And my guilt was…my guilt.

And, let's be honest--I'm no innocent victim. I've hurt enough women in my life to know that I'm in no position to throw stones...or shoot down airplanes. I wonder if any of these women ever dreamed of my demise.

I’d like to think that the death was meant to symbolize the demise of any lingering hostility I felt toward Mary Jane, that it’s high time to bury my anger and move the hell on.

I like that theory the best, so I’m going to go with that one. I’ll work on putting my anger aside, focus on the present, and stay away from strange airplanes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sister Promise

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
--Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I received Communion from Sister Promise today.

That’s what I saw on her nametag as she took the host from my hands, dunked into the chalice and put it in my mouth. Sister Promise.

I rather liked that name—it seems to be filled with hope and…promise.

I was in Trinity Church for my usual weekly service and to receive ashes. I was raised a Roman Catholic, but I’ve attending services at Trinity for over a year now.

I had to check the church’s web site to make sure the Episcopalians actually conducted Ash Wednesday services and when I found out they did, I started to get very anxious, wondering if I should get ashes at a Protestant church rather than a Catholic house of worship.

I reminded myself that I’d been taking communion at Trinity for quiet a while, so by the Vatican’s reckoning I probably was already well on my way to hell. A smudge of soot on my forehead wouldn’t make much of a difference at this stage.

And the Catholic Church never had anyone named Sister Promise. All the nuns I had when I went to school had men’s names for some reason and the only promise they held was that of a merciless beating if you didn’t toe the sanctified line.

As I went up to receive my ashes, I found myself thinking about how people often mock “pagan” religions and their strange customs, while never really looking hard in the mirror.

I’m sure people in some of these supposedly backward countries would wonder why people walking around Wall Street today had these black smudges on their heads. But I wore ashes proudly.

I needed to do something for my soul given the last week. While I’m happy to report that my shower has been fixed, but the old washing machine has been sent to appliance Valhalla, which means I’m back to laundromat duty.

That’s survivable, but I have yet to solve the mystery of the bites—if that’s what they are-- that have been appearing on my body, so I’m going to a dermatologist next week and laying down more double side tape in hope of catching whatever the hell is after me.

The church was packed today, unlike most of the noontime masses, where there's just a handful of regulars.

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is one of the ones on the Christian calendar and it pulls in the crowds.

I had to sit several rows back from my usual spot and I was tempted to cop an attitude about all these Johnny-Come-Holies nudging me out of my favorite pew, but then I remembered that, yeah, this was a church where attitudes have no place.

The Gospel talked about doing good things without expecting reward or acclaim and putting material things behind us, as they can be taken away from us at any time.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others,” Jesus said in today’s reading, “in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”

The service was also longer than usual, with a choir and several priests in attendance.

Unfortunately, I was getting nervous about the time. I had attended a breakfast conference in the morning and now here I was taking what turned out to be a 90-minute lunch.

I know that my soul is more important than any job will ever be, but it’s hard not to be worried about your paycheck with the economy so deep in a recession.

However Ash Wednesday reminds us that we will only be here a short time—“ashes to ashes,” right? So often, though, I focus on the short-term, while the important things in my life slip by.

I try to keep these things in mind, but I got back to the office today and some fellow in the next row of cubicles began coughing, and coughing, and coughing—something a hypochondriac like me really doesn’t appreciate.

I don’t know what’s wrong with the guy, but if he doesn’t go to the doctor immediately I’m going to choke the life out of him. And there I go—instead of being concerned about this poor man, I’m more worried about myself.

I’ve been thinking about more about time and the brevity of life lately. I’ll be 52 in May—Good God--and both my parents are gone, something that I still find hard to believe.

But mordidly pondering the end only brings you there quicker and while Ash Wednesday reminds us of death, it also gives a chance to celebrate life.

I think that’s what we all should be doing. And I know Sister Promise would agree.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bite Me

I was making a failed bid to catch the R train Friday morning when I looked down at someone’s lost glove on the platform and for just a second, I thought it was giving me the finger.

It’s been that kind of a week.

I’m trying not to be a drama queen here, but the last seven days have been packed with more misery, grief and bad luck that a whole month of Friday the 13ths.

Add to this my guilt in knowing that my problems don’t amount to diddley in comparison with the horrors going on in the world and you can see why I’d like to skip my life ahead to May.

For starters, something is feeding on me. I have been waking up for the last several mornings with some kind of insect bites.

New York City is the middle of a citywide bed bug infestation, so naturally I freaked at the very thought of the evil little bastards invading my hearth and home.

I pulled apart my bed, sprayed the whole bedroom with some over the counter insecticide, and even slept out in the living room. None of this helped.

I went online and talked to a friend who had gone through a bed bug attack, but the descriptions didn’t really didn’t match my situation. No smears of blood, no carcasses, no spots on the mattress. Just the bites.

My doctor believes these are indeed bites on my body, as opposed to a rash or some kind of skin condition. I think he’s right, but I intend to go to a dermatologist anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to give the old epidermis a once-over.

This business is making crazy. I went to bed the other night and before I switched off the light, I said “Come and get it!” to whatever the hell has been biting me.

I had an exterminators come over here and this two guys went to town—they pulled apart my bed, inspected every inch with a flashlight, looked in the porch and the living room, too.

I was hoping to show them fresh bites, but the most recent one was on my rear end and I didn't really feel like showing my ass to a pair of strangers. And I strongly suspect they didn't want to see my butt either.

The verdict? No sign of bed bugs.

This was a tremendous relief to me, as not only is the treatment expensive, it also involves emptying every drawer, clearing every bookshelf, washing every single bit of clothing I own, putting them in airtight bags and living this way for five weeks after the exterminators spray the house.

I’ve been putting out cat food for some of the local strays for a couple of years and I’ve noticed recently that a group of small birds swoop down to eat the cat food before the felines show up.

The exterminators suggested that it might be bird mites causing me this aggravation.

The treatment for bird mites is not as expensive the bed bug routine, but the preparation is the same—cleaning, washing, and living out of bags.

I moved the cat food dish in my front garden to the backyard just to be on the safe side. Of course, I came home on Wednesday, saw a cat looking around the garden in vain for the food dish, and felt like a dirt bag.

“Go to the backyard,” I told him. “The food’s back there.”

Is talking to alley cats a bad sign?

Mite or Mite Not?

The exterminators put glue down traps around my bedposts in hopes of nailing whatever is out there. I didn’t see anything for days, but I did step on one the other night and discovered that glue is seriously sticky.

Now today I did found…something…in one the traps, but I can’t make out what it is, even with a magnifying glass. I had collected some bits of stuff I had found in a plastic baggie—just like CSI—but the exterminators said this was nothing.

Meanwhile I’ve been in touch with an ornithologist and an entomologist at the Museum of Natural History.

The bird guy doubts its mites, while the bug guy wouldn’t rule out bed bugs and actually suggested it could be one bug doing the damage. If that’s the case, he’s one busy son-of-a-bitch.

It could be I’m in the early stage of a bed bug attack and they attackers have not matured yet. Still, the bug guy thinks I should be seeing something by now.

Could it be fleas from the alley cats? Misguided mosquitoes or a skin condition that has to date eluded medical science? Who the hell knows?

On top of this, my washing machine decided to crap out on me. Now, to be fair, it’s ancient. My parents bought this thing when I was a kid and that was in another century. But because it’s been working so well that I kind of expected—or hoped--it would just keep on going.

However, I switched it on the other night and noticed that it kept on filling up without swirling the clothes around.
Then I saw that water was leaking—gushing--out of the bottom like a torpedo strike on a destroyer and I was tempted to shout “abandon ship!” and dive out the cellar window. Maybe I could flood the bugs out of my house.

More? Okay, I came home the other night to work on a chapter in this novel I’ve been working on since the first Bush Administration and I find that the substantial revisions I had made this section were not there anymore. Gone, pffft! They simply did not take.

I don’t know if I forgot to hit the “Save” button or the chapter got lost when I overhauled this crappy computer’s worthless innards, but whatever the case, a ton of work was lost, along with my a substantial portion of my sanity.

But don’t go; you’ll miss the best part. On Friday I found my shower was on the fritz as well. It had been giving me problems every so often, where the water doesn’t come out of the nozzle and pounds against the wall like a rampaging rhinoceros.

I had a plumber look at it a while ago, but his work didn’t take either. And on Friday the shower shut done entirely. No water, just the incessant banging.

I’d like to say I handled this situation calmly, but that would be a misstatement. My reaction was a combination of the Christian Bale rant and that nutty airport lady on YouTube. I lost it completely, shoving my head under the nozzle to get some water while shouting curses to the heavens.

I don’t know what the neighbors thought. Well, yeah, I probably do know what they were thinking: hey, the bald guy’s losing it again.

I wanted to change how I react to things, and I suppose I could say that the pressure of everything else pushed me to the breaking point, but that’s just another excuse.

These outburst aren’t not good my health. And if—God forbid—I were being murdered by ravenous insects or psychotic humans, would my neighbors bother to call the cops, or just figure I was having another conniption fit?

I have to take my clothes to the laundromat and shower at my health club. The repairman is coming here tomorrow and will try and repair both the shower and the washing machine. Too bad he can't kill bugs, too.

In a little while I’m going to start rewriting—or re-rewriting—that damn chapter I lost. And I’m still itchy from what appears to be fresh bites, but that could be my imagination because I keep thinking on about fresh bites.

I told you this week sucked.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Message from Heaven

I try not to get too depressed on Valentine’s Day, but I got up this morning and realized that I had received just one card this year—and that was from my aunt.

Casanova can rest easy as I’m not about to usurp his title as the world’s greatest lover any time soon.

I thought I was on to something last week when I got an email reading “Message from Heaven” that had popped up in Friendster account.

I didn’t think the Lord wrote emails but then He does work in mysterious ways. However, this was no divine intervention. I clicked on the link and saw a photo of three young women in bathing suits smiling at the camera.

It was grainy and amateurish, like a vacation photo, and I wondered if I actually knew someone named Heaven. (I assumed she was the one in the middle.)

Maybe I had met her at some event, or perhaps she was the friend of a friend, or a former co-worker. Maybe I was just grasping at straws.

Whoever she was, she was attractive and interested in me, and since I don’t have anybody, I let my imagination fill in the details. So I clicked on her photo.

View my adult profile!” a title screamed at me. “I'm looking for a woman or couple to join me and my man for some fun. We love to role play, so you get brownie points if you have acting abilities!

And just in time for Valentine’s Day!

I clicked her profile and was immediately taken to a site called “Sex in Your City,” where a pop-up registration form appeared before me listing such categories as “Woman,” “Man,” “Transexual,” “Group,” Fetish,” or “Other.”

After those first few choices, that “Other” really makes me nervous.

I almost had a girlfriend this year—and not an Internet porn fantasy. I mean, I was so close to the whole routine: cards, candy, the big dinner.

Had this particular relationship worked out, it would have broken a staggeringly long streak of dateless V-Day’s, a run so long that I’m not sure how I would have handled the presence of a woman on this day dedicated to those in love.

I starting seeing a woman in January—better known as last month—and I thought we had potential as a couple. But it turned out to be just my imagination, running away with me.

I had met this woman online—yeah, I know, major warning sign—and we had a pleasant meet and greet, so I set up a second date at a lounge in Park Slope.

This evening also started off pleasantly. We had wine, listened to a very good band, and it all seemed okay.

After the band finished, I thought about calling it a night, but I do that too often in my life, so I asked my date what she wanted to do. She suggested a new club in the neighborhood, and off we went.

Now, my clubbing days are pretty much beyond me, but I wanted to do new things for this new year. The place was nice, with a huge bar and a dance floor downstairs. So my date and I started drinking, and drinking…and drinking some more.

And then we started kissing…and kissing…and kissing some more. The phrase “hog wild” comes to mind as we went at each other as if I were shipping out to McMurdo Station the next morning.

It was the kind of behavior that infuriates me when I have to witness it, where you want to shout “get a room!” at the offending couple. But it seemed okay when I did it.

Looking for Lust

I’m tempted to say we were behaving like a couple of teenagers, but I think horny adolescents would have shown more restraint. We, on the other hand, seemed to be conducting a tag-team body cavity search.

“You’re very frisky, aren’t you?” my date asked at one point.

I backed away to show her that I wasn’t all horn-dog all the time, but about two minutes later we were all over each other again. I'm persistent, as well as frisky.

We finally pried ourselves apart from each other and I walked her to her door—no “other” this evening.

I called her the next day to let her know what a great time I had, but she rushed me off the phone and I got the feeling that something wasn’t right.

We spoke a few days later. She was on her way to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration and after some chitchat about her trip, she informed me that we were finished because she “intuitively knew that we don’t belong together.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Intuition is pretty powerful shit and I don't like to mess with it.

Did she have a vision of us not working out? Did she meditate for hours, chew peyote and have a dream of me as a three-headed snake with radioactive fangs and a funny accent?

My shrink said I should have tried to woo her, but I didn’t see much wooing room here, frankly. We only had two dates and during one them we were too busy molesting each other to speak. If she wants to pull the plug, there ain't much I can do.

My sister suggested that my date might have been embarrassed by our behavior, and I suspect that might be closer to the truth, but who the hell knows?

I was disappointed, of course, but it felt good being out there again. I just wish her intuition could have waited until after Valentine's Day.

I did have an interesting encounter last week when I was shoveling snow in front of my house. I turned around to walk to the backyard when I locked eyes with a stray cat who was standing in my alley.

There was something wrong with this guy. His body was terribly hunched over and he looked straight at me with what I thought was a desperate, pleading look in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I asked the animal who cannot speak. “Are you okay, buddy?”

I was panicking. I didn’t want to touch him for fear of hurting him even more, but I knew I couldn't leave him. I was wondering if there is an emergency phone number for animals.

“Don’t worry,” I said. "I'll get help."

I thought maybe I could help this lonely creature and have a friend, like the lion in Aesop’s fable. Instead of drunken make-out sessions, I'd have a true companion, and together we could face whatever this cold, cruel world has to offer.

But then suddenly, the apparently ailing cat stood up straight and bolted off into the night. I realized then that he was not injured at all.

He was just taking a crap.

I looked down into the freshly fallen snow and saw a nice pile of brownie points that the cat had left behind.

“Feel free, my friend,” I shouted to the fleeing feline, “you can defecate on my house any time you want!”

When I went to get my mail this morning, I found I had gotten one more Valentine card. This one was from my niece, Victoria, in California, which came with two beautiful photographs of her.

I thought how I lucky I was to have her in my life, along with the rest of my family.

Remember,” the handmade card read, “when there is love, there is no fear.

Now there’s the message from Heaven I've been waiting for.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wish I'd Said That

Every so often you hear a line that is so perfect it’s nearly painful—especially when someone else says it.

This happened to me a few days ago as I was riding down the elevator at my office.

I found myself once again looking up at the video news screen that seems to be standard issue in most elevators today.

The doors of these elevators are highly reflective so if you don’t look at the monitor you end up staring at your reflection and those of your fellow passengers. It's like facing a group of long lost twins.

The news monitor is sponsored by the Wall Street Journal and provides non-stop business news, which, given the current state of the market, feels like non-stop water-boarding. Please, I'll sign anything you want, just don't tell me any more news.

When I saw the word “layoffs” appear on the screen, I promptly turned my back.

“I don’t know why I read that damn thing,” I said out loud.

“Yeah,” a guy next to me said. “‘Market’s Dead; You’re Next.’ ”

I had to laugh, in spite—or because of—all the misery going on around us. I walked out of the elevator, chuckling, and then turned around and called out to the guy as he walked away.

“That was a good one,” I said. And I can almost forgive him for coming up with such a funny line; almost, but not quite.

I’m starting to wonder if I should even follow the news any more, an odd thing for a reporter to say, perhaps, but I’m also a human being.

Companies are going under, people are losing their jobs, Dick Cheney is salivating at the thought of another terrorist attack—it’s all too much sometimes.

I know so many people who are out of work right now, I’m going through a kind of survivor’s guilt. But I get over it quickly when I realize how close to the edge we all are.

I was coming out the Rector Street train station the other morning, along with a few hundred other working stiffs, a woman walking by us in the opposite direction looked around in amazement.

"All these people," she said loudly. "What's going on?"

The fellow ahead of me turned around so we could exchange looks. Weekday...Wall Street...what part of employment don't you get?

"We're going to work, lady," he muttered.

"Welcome to the real world," I added.

With all these grim news, I’ve been thinking about the Depression era songs my mother used to sing when I was going up. Such as:

I’ll be down to get you in a wheel, honey, taxi cabs cost too much money.

And then there was :

"You make time, and you make love dandy;
You make swell molasses candy.
But, honey, are you making any money?
That's all I want to know.”

These tunes provide an intriguing mix of romance and economics, but it was the Great Depression after all. I think it’s going to be a while before we hear anyone singing “We’re in the Money.”

The Film Forum is currently running a series of films from the Depression entitled “Breadlines & Champagne.”

The Seed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit

The series includes such titles as I’m No Angel, It Happened One Night, and a personal favorite, Footlight Parade, which features those great numbers "Honeymoon Hotel," and "Shanghai Lil."

The theater kicked off the event on Friday—the same day the Labor Department said the economy dropped the most jobs since 1974---- by lowering ticket prices down to 35cents, the average Manhattan ticket cost in 1933.

I didn’t make it to the opening, but I did take a trip back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when I accompanied my sister and her friend to Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers for the store's monthly radio mystery hour.

On the first Saturday of each month, a group of actors perform old radio shows and advertisements. On this night we heard episodes from The Adventures of Sam Spade and The Shadow.

The performances are held in a small—and somewhat stuffy—backroom, which is located behind a door disguised as a bookshelf. Or is it a bookshelf disguised as a door?

“This is like something out of the Hardy Boys,” I said to a woman across from me as I pulled the door back at the intermission.

We sat in the last row, but it didn’t matter much, since the room was so small and, hey, this is radio. My parents said you had to use your imagination back then.

The audience was having fun and the actors were all very good. We watched as the sound effects woman punched a baseball glove during a fight scene and we laughed as the actors tapped their chests with plunger cups to simulate the sound of horses galloping.

It was great seeing the performers change characters from one program to the next, so that the giggling psycho gangster in Sam Spade—“the man asked you a question, dummy!”-- showed up a short time later as Lamont Cranston, dashing young man about town, in The Shadow.

They had great ads back then, too. If you want to cook a healthy meal for your family, we were told, and not use up your ration points, then you should make Kraft’s macaroni and cheese.

One of the actors had a shaved head, just like yours truly, and he read copy for some kind of hair tonic, which got some chuckles out of the audience...except from me.

We learned that The Shadow had gone to the Orient year agos where he learned how "to cloud men's minds"--kind of like Fox News.

Too bad we don't have the Shadow around today. We could use someone who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. He could start with Bernie Madoff.

The announcer--along with a good portion of the audience--signed off with the line, "Bye-bye, and buy Bonds!"

As we started to leave, that woman across from me dropped her purse, and being an aspiring gentleman, I picked it up and handed it to her.

“I thought a gun would come tumbling out of this thing,” I told her. “It’s like that in all the movies.”

It was a pretty good evening. We paid just 7 bucks to see an offbeat live show and had a great time doing it.

We may not be in the money, but we’ve still got a lot of what it takes to get along.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Neither Man nor Beast

It's that time of year again when I make my annual oath to move to California.

We're into that really ugly part of winter now. Most days are bitter cold, the holidays are over and spring is so far off it feels like something I dreamed up on a three-day binge.

Whenever the icy breezes tears through me, I want to put my head back and scream, "what am I still doing here?"--and then run away to some place where the words "wind chill factor" have no meaning.

So, once again, I'm swearing to God and anybody else who's listening that this will be the last, goddamnit, the absolute last winter I will ever spend in New York.

I want sunshine, warmth, and blue water. I want to visit sandy beaches all year round and ogle women half my age in tight bathing suits.

I'm tired of hiding inside my house like a grizzly; I'm weary of wearing a bloated parka that makes me look like the fat man at the circus; I'm fed up with sneezing, sniffling, coughing, choking, and most of all I'm tired of talking about the flipping cold weather.

This just in: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which, of course, means winter will continue. I hope that little obnoxious little critter has a bodyguard.

I went to my local butcher shop today and as I was chatting with the cashier, the conversation turned toward...the cold weather.

The cashier said it was supposed to warm up for a few days before the mercury tumbles back to artic levels.

"I can't stand it," I whined.

"C'mon, it's winter," she jokingly snapped at me. "What do you expect?"

"I want to move to California!"

"And then you'll have earthquakes!"

Well, at least I'll be warm and tanned when I croak.

Since I have failed to act on my threat to move--another yearly tradition--I have to resort to positive thinking.

Earlier this month I bought a large bottle of daily vitamins. So, trying to look on the bright side of life, I reckoned that when I finally consumed all 120 vitamins in the bottle, it will be spring.

I wonder if I can hurry things a long a little if I took two pills a day?

But at least I have a roof over my head. I was hanging laundry in the basement last week when I looked out the back window and saw this beautiful black cat walking around my backyard.

He--I think he was a he--approached an overturned trash can lid on this freezing cold day and began licking a patch of ice that had formed there.

I have never been so close to an alley cat before. Usually they bolt if I get within 30 feet of them. I felt like I was watching a nature documentary about animals in the wild, which this fellow clearly is.

He couldn't see me through the window, but every so often he'd look up, as if he could sense he was not alone.

Window Seat

It was startling to witness this struggle for survival so close to my home. When I see a stray cat, I always assume they'll get by somehow. Well, this is how: by licking filthy ice in a trash can lid.

I wish I could do something more these animals, but we live in a society that has a poor track record of taking care of its people, let alone the animals.

Just two blocks from my house Mexican day laborors stand freezing on a street corner looking to get any kind of work.

And even if you have a roof over your head, it's not much without heat. In Michigan, a 93-year-old World War II vetern recently froze to death--slowly and painfully, authorities say—-after the electric company installed a power-limiting device because of more than $1,000 in unpaid bills.

This man survived the war, just like my father, but he ended up freezing to death in his own country. As a young man, he signed up for the good fight and served in a war that most people barely remember.

The retired foundry worker lived alone after his wife died a couple of years ago. The couple had no children and the man's nephew believes his uncle's mind may have been slipping.

In light of the old man's death, the governor of Michigan plans to call for wide restraints on residential gas and electric shutoffs.

I find this story so terrible in so many ways. Is this how we take care of our senior citizens and our veterans? Did anybody have the brains to figure out what was happening here?

Certainly the power company can't be expected to just let people ignore their bills. I've have some personal experience with enough deadbeats to know that there are people in this world who simply refuse to pay for anything.

But there has to be some kind of system in place to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again.

I think of my father, who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. What if he had no one to keep track of his bills? Would he have frozen to death in our family's house?

And I think of myself in the coming years. I'm not getting any younger and I have no children. Will I be found in my house some day--alone, wrapped up in sweaters?

I saw that black cat again the other night when I came home from work. He was perched on the steps to my kitchen door as if he were the home owner.

I was going to the back yard to throw some away some fliers that had been stuffed in my mail box, but I didn't want to disturb him.

It's not much, but if he can shield himself from the cold winds a little bit by sitting outside my house, he's more than welcome.

I think I'll go take a few more vitamins now. I'm feeling a little chilly.