Tuesday, March 31, 2009

IM What IM

I was going through some old files when I found this transcript of an IM conversation I had with a total stranger a few years ago.

The story that "Tina" told has all the classic Nigerian scam elements, including repeated references to money, or the lack of it, and someone dying "in a ghastly car accident."

The only difference here is the real time element. I usually get emails about vasts sums of money that are just waiting for me in some distant country.

I never had an online chat with one of these scam artists.

I don't know why I kept the record of this conversation and I'm not sure why I even "spoke" with this person. I guess I didn't want to be rude and, well, maybe I was in need of some company.

I guess if I had let it go on, Tina would have asked me for money, or my bank account number. I wonder how many people fell for this scam.

Loneliness and the need to do good deeds can blind you to things you really need to see. But then that's what con artists rely upon.

I find the whole IM business a little twisted. You're speaking, but you're really typing. If you want to talk to me, pick up the damn phone.

I grew to hate the IM at this one job I had where my supervisor communicated entirely by IM, despite being a few yards away. One day I came in and I forget to switch on the IM. How careless of me...

I never heard from Tina again and I hope she's out of business. And if by some fluke her sad story is actually true, well, I hope she's back home and happy.

tina_luv003: Hi, I read your profile on yahoo and I was fascinated with what you wrote there...... I would like to know more about you

Rob: hi ya

tina_luv003: How are you?

Rob: okay--and you?

tina_luv003: im doin good

tina_luv003: I am Tina

tina_luv003: and u

Rob: hi, tina, I'm rob. I live in Brooklyn, NY. where are you?

tina_luv003: Iam from vegas but currently now in Nigeria

Rob: my goodness...nigeria, huh?

tina_luv003: yup

Rob: and you lived in las vegas?

tina_luv003: I am from Vegas but nw in Nigeria

Rob: how did you wind in Nigeria? Do you have family there?

tina_luv003: nope...... I came here for awarness on HIV/AIDS campain

Rob: oh really--is that with the UN?

tina_luv003: yup

Rob: i see...how long will you be there?

tina_luv003: I don't know for now because the motel management I am living with have seized all my traveling documents

Rob: oh, that's terrible

tina_luv003: yup

Rob: well, i'm certainly sorry to hear that. tell me more about yourself.

tina_luv003: ask me anything you wanna know

Rob: how old are you? what do you look like?

tina_luv003: I am 30 yrs oild

tina_luv003: 5'6ft,130lbs,blue eyes

Rob: i'm a little older than that--i'm 49, with a shaved head. about 5'7", 140 lbs.

tina_luv003: cool

Rob: i don't know about cool. i'm going to be 50 in may and i feel pretty darn old

tina_luv003: i see

tina_luv003: what do u do for a living?

Rob: i'm a reporter. i work for a business news web site

tina_luv003: ok

tina_luv003: im also a nurse

Rob Lenihan: great.

Rob Lenihan: are things bad over there--poverty, illness, etc?

tina_luv003: yup,

tina_luv003: very bad

tina_luv003: they are living a very rough life down here

Rob: well, i commend you for your dedication. you're doing great work

tina_luv003: I have even stopped working with them

Rob: because of the passport business?

tina_luv003: nope, I am tired of working here... this place is not a good place for the whites

Rob: oh, sorry to hear that.

Rob: can't the us embassy help you with your papers?

tina_luv003: I've been there they said they can't help in monetary issue

Rob: oh...do you have family back in vegas?

tina_luv003: yup, but they don't wanna care for me

tina_luv003: Ilost my parent in a ghastly auto crash three years ago

Rob: oh, that's terrible

tina_luv003: Thanks....

Rob: do you have any siblings or other family?

tina_luv003: I have some other relatives but they don't care about me

Rob: oh, that's unfortunate

Rob: listen, tina, i have to go out now. i hope things work out well for you. take care

tina_luv003: ok

tina_luv003: thanks

tina_luv003: hope to hear hear from you again

Rob: ok

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jurassic Punk

Parents of difficult teenagers can take some solace in a recent news item that found even dinosaurs had to deal with juvenile delinquents.

According to an article posted on LiveScience.com , the remains of three juvenile Triceratops, a species thought to be solitary, were found in a 66 million-year-old bone bed in Montana, having died together in a flood.

This discovery gives more credence to the belief that “teen dinosaurs were gregarious gangsters,” the article said.

There is no mention of leather jackets, zip guns, or switch blades. I wonder if they danced and sang “When you’re Triceratop, you a Triceratop all the way…”

There are other recent discoveries of dinosaurs hanging out in cliques, but I’m sure none of them was a match for Predator X. That may sound like the name of a professional wrestler, but is actually a recently discovered species of pliosaur, which lived 147 million years ago.

Predator X was 50-feet long (!) weighed 45 tons (!!) and could crush a Hummer in its massive jaws, which makes me sorry that he's extinct. Imagine the poor fisherman who reeled that thing in. Sorry about the hook, dude. Can I have my head back?

Naturally to appreciate these and other such discoveries you have to believe the earth is actually billons of years old, as opposed to a few thousand.

I saw one Christian/psycho blog that says Predator X is bogus and that his bones were actually planted by Satan to fool dim-witted humans. I think this person was serious in this belief, which is far more frightening than Predator X could ever be.

I wonder if the devil wears overalls and a straw hat while doing his planting—or does he hire illegal immigrants like everybody else?
Predator X brought back memories of all my favorite monster movies--Godzilla, Gorgo, The Giant Behemoth, and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

I loved those pictures, even though they pretty much follow the same formula. The big monster is supposed to be long extinct and what do you know?—he’s alive and well and rather pissed.

Bat Squeeze

Radiation is usually the culprit in these movies, as it defrosts or revives the monster in some way so he can stomp all over some hapless metropolis, crushing buildings and eating Hummers to his heart’s content.

There’s the shots of toy buildings being knocked over, crowds of people running through the streets screaming, and the vain attempts to kill the thing with conventional weapons. Honestly, why do they bother with guns and bombs? We all know all this crap is not going to work.

After much damage and a lot of brainstorming, the scientists come up with a crazy, ridiculous scheme to kill the monster—that…just…might…work. And, of course it does.

Tokyo usually bears the brunt of these reptilian attacks, but London got the business in Gorgo and The Giant Behemoth . The beast in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms did his thing right here in New York City with the climax taking place at Steeplechase in Coney Island. Thankfully Nathan’s was spared.

If Predator X is too much for you to handle, try Hesperonychus elizabethae, a meat-eating dinosaur that scientists said was about the size of the average chicken.

It’s hard to imagine millions of Japanese people running away from a chicken-sized monster, but attitude counts for a lot.

I guess if they ever did a movie about this guy, the Army would call in Col. Sanders to fry up the little bastard Cajun style.

However, I’m not sure even the Colonel could take on the space bat, an apparently garden variety flying mammal who was last seen hitching a ride on the space shuttle.

Scientists think the bat met his maker on the flight out of earth’s atmosphere, but what if he didn’t? What if he was exposed to radiation, grew to gargantuan size and is winging his way back to earth to crush our cities and eat our Hummers?

We could try taking him to Nathan's and entering him in the hotdog eating contest, but he may not like the beach. We're going to need help.

Come back, Predator X, all is forgiven.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Much Too Soon

I couldn’t watch the news stories about Natasha Richardson last night.

Every time a report came on about that horrible accident, I picked up the remote and changed the channel.

I kept on telling myself—lying to myself—that she could still pull out of it, that all the reports saying she was brain dead and quoting “sources close to the family” were wrong.

I thought that if I didn't watch the news, I could somehow keep it from happening. I was hoping that the next time I heard about Natasha Richardson, she would be on her way to makeing a full recovery.

I didn’t want to believe that such a talented, lovely woman could just be extinguished in what initially appeared to be a minor skiing accident.

She walked away from it, joking about her clumsiness, according to one report. And a few hours later she was dead.

I know it’s crazy, but I still find myself making these absurd comparisons, pointing to other incidents where people fell or were struck much harder and were able to walk away with hardly a scratch.

I remember the “agony of defeat” scene from the old ABC Wide World of Sports opening that showed this incredible footage of a ski jumper getting clobbered as his jump went terribly wrong.

He body crashed through a fence, his helmet was ripped off his head, and his limbs twirled in all directions. No matter how many times I saw that footage, I cringed. But the guy only suffered minor injuries.

I keep looking for rules and fairness in a universe where neither one exists. There is no one to complain to, no one to be furious with or attack. It just happened.

I was thinking of the movie Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow, which follows two possible scenarios of one woman’s life, depending upon whether or not she catches a train.

In one version, she does indeed catch the train and gets home in time to catch her boyfriend cheating on her. She tosses him out and becomes successful and independent.

In the other version—the “loser” if you will—misses the train and misses out on a chance to turn her life around. Life is pretty bad for this version of the character…but things change.

I guess if there is any lesson to learn from this tragedy, it’s that life is precious, brief, and unpredictable. Success, wealth and fame guarantee nothing.

I think of all things that I’ve been afraid to do, how fear has played such a role in my life. And then you see something like this and realize fear has no place in your life.

My mother once told me I should thank God for every day and I'm begining to understand just how right she was.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lucky Me

"God is good, but never dance in a small boat."
--Irish proverb

There seemed to be fewer people wearing green this year.

Perhaps I'm just being nostalgic, but it seemed that when I was growing up, everybody wore something green on St. Patrick's Day, no matter what their ethnicity was. Looks like another tradition is fading.

I had a nun in fifth grade who was Bostonian Irish and on St. Patrick's Day she greeted us with "top of the morning to ye" and ordered us to respond, "may the rest of the day be yours."

We did as we were told, of course, but I think we would rather have said something like, "may you rot in hell for the rest of eternity, you hideous old witch." But we were good Catholic children.

I made sure to wear a green shirt today, but I'm staying at home. It's mid-week and I don't feel like showing up at work tomorrow hung over.

My late father always refered to St. Pat's and New Year's Eve as "amateur's night." And he was Irish.

The two days also share this aura of false celebration. We're supposed to make drunken fools of ourselves because, well, that's what we're supposed to do.

I'm listening to Irish music now, a hold over from the days when my father used to blast his Clancy Brothers album over and over. You hear those songs long enough, you either hate them or love them. It took a while, but I do enjoy the Irish tunes now.

I saw my dad in a dream last night. My family was planning another group vacation--this time to Portland, Oregon and I realized I was woefully unprepared.

I was barely packed, I hadn't made arrangements to have someone feed the cats, and I dreaded the notion of getting on an airplane, knowing full well that I would be crushing my sister's hand in terror for the duration of the flight.

I looked up and saw my father walking toward us. He looked confused and disheveled, as he did in the last years of life. He was lugging a big laundry bag full of clothes.

I remember my heart sinking at the thought of having to get him on a plane and fly across the country with him. That's not a nice thing to say, but if you've ever had to take care of someone with Alzheimer's, you know what I'm talking about. Fortunately I woke up before we reached JFK.

I guess I dreamed about my dad because it was St. Pat's. I don't get the Portland angle, but the confusion probably comes from my antics Monday morning, when I couldn't get out of the damn house.

I hadn't slept the night before and I was just mess that morning. Every time I walked by a table or shelf, I managed to knock over papers, boxes--it was like I had a force field around me.

Early to Bed

So I'm going to bed at a decent hour tonight. I stayed home on St. Patrick's Day last year, too, only then I was out of work and George Bush was still president, so I'm ahead of the game already.

I'm trying to change to my attitude toward life--really. I went to a self-help class last week and the man running the show warned about falling into destructive patterns and accepting them as just the way things are. If you project negative energy, he told us, you're going to get it back.

None of what he said was particularly original, but I had a good time. And it reminded me of how I slip into a negative--and often hostile--mindset.

"You have to love yourself as you are right now," the teacher said. Again--not original, but still worth repeating. I've had a hard time respecting myself and other people have picked up on this and treated me like some clown.

I thought about the concept of inner peace and how it's never been anything more than a concept for me. I've said that I want to find inner peace, but did little to make that happen. I sought out discomfort because I think that--oddly enough--it makes me comfortable; if that makes any sense.

When the class ended, I went to the men's room and as I did my business, I looked out the window at a red light blinking on a distant tower.

New York looked like some fantasy land. I felt so calm; the only sound was the water gushing out a leaky faucet. It sounds strange finding inner peace in a public bathroom, but you have to take it when it comes.

The instructor said he likes to walk through a crowded supermarket once a week without passing any judgements on the people around him.

Screaming kids, rude customers pushing their carts to the head of the line--it doesn't matter. This man just takes it all in.

I tried after the class as I walked to the subway station and I have to say it felt pretty good.

I was in mid-town, near Madison Square Garden, and I breezed by the middle-aged men horsing around on the street corner, the group of loud teenagers, the drivers blasting radios--everything just rolled over me.

I knew this feeling wouldn't last and I was right, but I'm glad I took this class. It was only 20 bucks and it pointed me in the right direction.

I don't think I'll do anything more with this teacher. His material isn't terribly original and he has to work on his salesmanship.

Just before the class ended he launched into a spiel about his upcoming day-long class, CD's, books, bumper stickers, stained glass windows, the whole schmear. He shifted from guru to Crazy Eddie faster than you could chant "om."

I know the dude has to make a living, but this was a real mood killer. A little more subtley, please.

St. Patrick's Day is almost over. It's time for me to put away these negative thoughts, the "poor me" schtick that I've clung to for far too long. I find that being miserable all the time is rather tiring.

I don't suggest that we should all turn into happy idiots, ignoring pain and pretending eveything is just peachy. Christ, we had eight years of that and look where it's gotten us.

I just want to put an end to this knee-jerk misery I carry around with me like a soldier's backpack.

I have a steady paycheck, a loving family, and good friends. Whatever I'm not happy with, I am determined to improve, fix, or get over. Talk about the luck of the Irish.

May the rest of the day be yours.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Guys With the Guns

What a great day for the Grim Reaper.

Today we had news of two--count 'em, two--maniacs gunning down innocent people on this battered planet: one in the U.S. and another in Germany for a total of 25 people shot dead.

These mass shootings totals are getting like the sports scores.

And the kicker is that tonight I get an email from the Brady Campaign linking to a video of an address by NRA head case Wayne LaPierre speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"Our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules," LaPierre told the assembled freaks. "Our founding fathers understood that freedom always rides with a firearm by its side."

Oh, Wayne, how right you are. The guys with the guns really are making the rules. Guys like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, David Berkowitz, and Mark David Chapman to name a few. And now we have a few more names to add to that list.

In Alabama, a guy with a gun made the rules. He killed 10 people and then committed suicide in a metals plant that had forced him to resign years ago.

Police said the shooter had left behind lists of employers and co-workers he believed had wronged him, including one who reported him for not wearing ear plugs, another who made him clean a meat grinder and a supervisor who didn't like the way he cut pork chops at the sausage factory where he worked.

There's something about this man working at a place where meat products are churned out that makes this story even more gruesome.

The shooting was the deadliest attack by a single gunman in Alabama history and a man who worked with the killer told reporters that "something had to snap." It snapped, all right.

The Brady Campaign says that Alabama has the fifth-highest gun death rate in America, including the third-highest rate of gun homicide.

Then over in Germany,a 17-year-old wielding a Beretta 9 mm pistol really laid down the law as he burst into classrooms at his former high school Wednesday and gunned down students.

"Children were sitting at their tables, with pencils still in their hands, their heads fallen over on the table," a police official told AP. "Most of them had shots in their head — it must have all happened in seconds."

Yes, it doesn't take much time to set those rules. And it seems the lines from these slaughters are always the same.

"I heard two shots and then screaming," one girl in Germany said. "At first I thought it was a joke, but then someone called 'Run, run!' and I saw students jumping out of the windows and took off running."

The kiler was described as "completely unremarkable" and that "there was nothing in his background to suggest this could have happened."

And then there's this from Alabama:

"He had cold eyes. There was nothing. I hollered at him. I said, 'Look, boy, I ain't done nothing to you,'" a witness said.

A former classmate of the Alabama shooter said, "you never saw him out at parties; he never got in trouble."

Shots, screaming, cold eyes--is this some kind of virus that's gripping our world? Is it something you can catch like the flu?

Of course we all know that guns has absolutely nothing to do with all these dead bodies. Guns don't kill people; psychotics with guns kill people.

Here's an email from RNC Chairman/Limbaugh Lackey Michael "You Be Da Man" Steele to his fellow gun lovers.

"The Obama Administration has revealed its intention to reinstate the so-called 'assault' gun ban — Step One of their plan to repeal the 2nd Amendment."

Steele goes on to accuse the Obama team of "using fear tactics to impose bad policy."

Obama is using fear tactics? How about Wayne LaPierre? How about the guys with the guns? Wouldn't you call wholesale slaughter a pretty fearful thing? I sure as hell would.

We sent guys--and women--to Iraq with guns and look how well that worked out. Naturally the people who came up with that brilliant idea didn't actually go over there themselves. It's great to talk tough and let somebody else deal with the other guys with guns.

But gun nuts have nothing to fear. They'll always have their precious weapons and we'll always have these massacres.

We'll have more cold eyes, more unremarkable people becoming murderers, more screaming, more death lists, and plenty of those candlelight vigils we've all grown so accustomed to seeing. Something is going to snap over and over again.

Praise the Lord and pass the Kevlar.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Valley of the Shadow

“When you pray, think. Think well what you're saying. Make your thoughts into things that are solid. In that way, your prayer will have strength, and that strength will become a part of you, body, mind, and spirit.”
---Mr. Gruffydd in How Green Was My Valley

When it comes to old movies I confess that I am a shameless weeper.

If a film has any kind of sincere sentimentally to it—and I stress sincere—you’d better put on a poncho and a scuba mask because I'm sure to be blubbering all over you.

But I even amazed myself the other night when I sat down to watch John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.

The credits rolled, the narrator began speaking and that was it, brother—the tears flowed out of me like building sprinkler system in a 12-alarm fire.

It was insane. Characters would say hello to each other and I’d start wailing and reaching for the tissues. I don’t enjoy living alone in my family’s house, but I was sure glad there was no on around to watch me go to pieces like this.

I don’t know how I avoided seeing this fabulous movie for so many years. As a movie fanatic, I should see every scrap of film that a titan like Ford ever shot, in addition to watching his best work repeatedly.

I suspect I avoided this picture because it’s considered a classic, and thus I thought it would be dry and dull and a bit clunky.

I approached the idea of watching this film with the same attitude I have when I take vitamins or eat spinach. This stuff is good for you, but not terribly exciting.

(I had a similar experience with Polanski’s Knife in the Water, a great, but--whoa!--totally different film.)

After watching How Green Was My Valley , I see that I could have not have been more wrong about the “classic label” because some of the synonyms for that word include timeless, immortal, unforgettable, landmark, and masterpiece.

And How Green Was My Valley is every one of those and more. The cast is fabulous, the shots are so beautifully composed, and the music is incredible.

I thought that a story about Welsh miners at the turn of the 20th Century would have very little to say to a guy living in modern day Brooklyn. I got that one wrong, too.

The setting of the story is just the surface-something you think I would have learned a lot time ago. It’s the emotions beneath that setting—like coal beneath the earth’s surface--that made the story resonate with me.

And let me be clear: this is no tearjerker with phony, manipulative scenes. The reactions I had come from Ford’s honest and powerful filmmaking.

So when the narrator begins the story by saying how the mind forgets what just happened, but remembers "memories of long ago and of men and women long since dead," my tear ducts shifted into overdrive.

Like the valley that the adult Huw Morgan recalls, the Bay Ridge of my memory seems like a magical place; a small town, really, where walking to Shore Road or to the stores on 86th Street—before the chain retailers muscled in—seemed like a great adventure. I remember the shop owners, the friends and neighbors, a whole way of life, that are all gone now.

I think it’s important that I saw this movie at this time of my life. While I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie had I seen it as a young man and aspiring filmmaker, the story is so much more personal now that I’m middle-aged, missing my late parents, and regretting so many of my decisions.

I was walking up Ovington Avenue on Wednesday feeling a bit melancholy. I know I declared 2009 the year I stop hating myself, but you also have to be realistic and when I look back on my life, I have to say that I didn’t do enough to make turn my dreams my reality.

I wasn't daring when I was young, I chastized myself, yet again. I didn't take risks because I was so fearful of failure. Instead, I played it safe.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I stumbled upon reporting, only because I got a chance to write and instead of moving L.A. to pursue my Hollywood dream, I went to towns like Stroudsburg, Pa., and Waterbury, Conn., to work at small daily newspapers and promising myself I would only stay a short while before hitting the big time.

The years went by, the dream stayed distant, and I find myself writing for a living about things like fair value, mark to market, and unremediated deficiencies. I lived in a dream world, watching other people’s films but never making my own.

“Huw,” Mr. Gruffydd, the minister tells our young hero, “I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth.”

I thought I was going to conquer the world, too, only with fiction that read like the truth. But I found every excuse not to make good on that wish.

Rev. Jones at Trinity Church—he’s my version of Mr. Gruffydd--gave a sermon this week accepting ourselves as we are—with our flaws and deficiencies, unremediated or otherwise.

He didn’t mean that we should give up and not try to improve ourselves. But in this season of Lent, I think he was calling for a ceasefire in the relentless assault that we often launch against ourselves.

While so many of the film’s images strike a chord with me, others are painful in how they differ from my life.

When Huw recalls his father, he says so lovingly that “men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.”

Oh, boy, I’m crying now as I type this and think of the difficult relationship I had with my father. The Elder Morgan, while pretty tough, doesn’t appear to yell or bash the people the way it happened it my house.

I suppose some part of me wishes my father could have been the Ideal Movie Dad, but then I was hardly the Ideal Movie Son. We were both people living in the real world, and not on a Hollywood movie set.

"Everything I ever learnt as a small boy came from my father," Huw says, "and I never found anything he ever told me to be wrong or worthless. The simple lessons he taught me are as sharp and clear in my mind as if I had heard them only yesterday."

Much of that is true for me. My father did love his family very much and he could be very loving and supportive. Like most of us, he had his dark side and it makes little sense to revist those ugly memories.

There’s a scene in the film where Huw is being bullied at school and his father has him take boxing lessons, declaring “a boy must fight.”

I was never a fighter in school or in adulthood, never really stood up for myself, and that’s another club I used to beat myself with—until I gave it up for Lent, of course.

After seeing a film like this—a classic, if you will--I’m tempted to rattle that old line about how they don’t make them like this anymore. Only here, it’s not a line. It’s true; they really don’t make them like that anymore, and that’s a damn shame.

Instead of slow motion, fast motion, CGI and rapid fire rock video editing, I’d like to see a modern movie depict the same kind of emotional power that Ford displayed in this film.

I would like to see one of today's young geniuses conquer the world with truth the way Ford did, but I’m not holding my breath.

Yes, change is inevitable, and so is the pain that comes with that change. The important thing is that you can’t let allow yourself to be overwhelmed by that pain and drown in a sea of nostalgia. You can honor the past without throwing away the present.

Huw Morgan learns that lesson at the end of How Green Was My Valley, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

"Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are still a glory in my ears? No. I will stand to say 'No,' and 'No' again, for they remain a living truth within my mind."