Thursday, June 25, 2009

Neverland Farewell

It didn’t take long, did it?

Michael Jackson was just dead for a few hours this evening when I witnessed a scramble for post-mortem memorabilia.

I stopped by a used book stand on W. 73rd Street and Broadway to see if I could add even more paperbacks to my already mountainous collection.

As I approached the stand, the proprietor—I guess that’s what you call him—a large African-American man, was arguing with a skinny middle-aged fellow with glasses who was clutching a copy of Jackson’s Thriller LP.

“I don’t want your money,” the bookseller declared forcefully.

“How much do--?” the other man tried to say.

“—I don’t want your money.”

I’ve bought so many books here, but I’ve never learned this man’s name. He is a local legend, though, and very protective of his patch of ground.

The guy with the glasses finally got the message, put down the record—which looked like a manhole cover next to a CD—and walked away.

“You have a blessed day,” the bookseller said in a way that made me doubt his sincerity and sat down in his folding chair.

I wanted to ask him what the dispute was about, but as I mentioned, he was rather large and rather upset. Most likely this incident was part of the first wave of Jackson-related bone-picking.

I bought the Spiritual Diary, a small paperback with a yoga philosophy lesson for every day of the year. The book guy wanted three bucks and I didn’t argue.

So now with the deaths of Jackson, Farrah Fawcett—in the same day, no less--and Ed McMahon a few days earlier, my mother’s theory about celebrities dying in threes seems to be accurate.

I really wasn’t a fan of any of these people, but I do regret their passing. It’s a shame that the death of a degenerate like Michael Jackson will overshadow the brave struggle that Farrah Fawcett put up before finally succumbing to cancer.

I didn't think much of McMahon, but I came to respect him more when I read his obituary. It turns out, among other things, that he was a veteran who served in both World War II and the Korean War.

Jackson and Farrah Fawcett were two iconic figures from my younger days and I still remember the pop culture hysteria that surrounded both of them. That famous Farrah poster was so prevalent at one time that there was probably one hanging in the Vatican.

And Thriller, God, that was all you heard on the radio. I actually started to like Michael Jackson’s music after studiously detesting the Jackson Five’s body of work for years.

I enjoyed the "Beat It" video and I even got a kick out of "Thriller" with the Vincent Price rap. It was entertaining as hell.

And then for Jackson it all fell apart in a way that no one could ever have predicted.

The plastic surgery, Bubbles the Chimp, the child molestation accusations, the Elephant Man’s bones—could this possibly have been the same person who enthralled the world when he moonwalked on TV?

The passing of time and the fragility of life are frightening concepts, but the moral corruption that seemed to ooze out of Michael Jackson brought creepy to a whole new level.

I started reading the Spiritual Diary as I the rode the subway home tonight and I thought today's entry was quite appropriate.

Mind is the chief factor for governing the body,” it said. “One should always avoid suggesting to the mind thoughts of human limitations such as sickness, old age and death.

It sounds like those yogis knew what they were talking about.

Have a blessed day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ride, Captain, Ride

I’d been running low on joy lately, both the emotion and the dishwashing liquid.

Replacing the soap was easy—I just went to the appropriate shelf at my local grocery store and grabbed hold of the plastic bottle.

But at the last second, thanks to the recession and my unflagging frugality, I forsook the Joy in favor of an eerie blue generic brand that was two bucks cheaper. How much Joy do you need in this life, anyway?

However, the cutrate suds didn’t cut the mustard—or the grease--and so my funk deepened. I was in a rut and desperately in need of a change.

And that’s when I got this email:

“I am Capt. David Charles, 50 Years Old from (England) United Kingdom. I work with Princess Diana Luxury Motor Yacht in United Kingdom. We are seeking applicants to work on the new year-round UNITED KINGDOM flagged Passenger ship. It’s a private own yacht. Accommodation will be provided by the Company. I will like to know if you are interested in working on the ship.”

All I know about sailing can be found in the lyrics of “Sloop John B,” but I was ready to sign up. I could see the whole wide world while swabbing the deck, hoisting the missen mast, and crowing in the crow’s nest.

I could also teach Capt. David Charles, 50 Years Old from (England) United Kingdom, how to speak the Queen’s English so he won’t write any more emails reading “I will like to know…”

Yes, I know this was yet another Internet scam, but it was a cut above the old Nigerian oil well routine, where some relative of mine that I never heard of gets his ticket punched in a wild muskrat stampede and now I’m next in line for all his wealth.

This yacht gig didn’t make any appeal for a bank account number or other such financial information like your average web swindle—though I’m sure that would follow if I responded to the captain’s e-mail.

Still, it’s nice to fantasize about chucking the daily grind and leaving the muskrat race behind for a life on the ocean. I could sail the seven seas as the world’s oldest cabin boy, which certainly beats the hell out of riding the R train to the office every morning.

We could go to exotic places like Burkina Faso, and while that may sound like an Italian soap opera star, it is actually a West African nation where Princess Achia Oyaba currently hangs her crown.

The princess wrote to me—and about 12 million other people--to say she was in a whole mess of trouble because her dad, King Oyaba “a very wealthy traditional ruler” and her “Senior Brother” were poisoned to death “by his rivals in the traditional chieftaincy title tussle about royalties and other related matters.”

The princess’ command of English isn’t much better than that of Capt. David Charles, 50 Years Old from (England) United Kingdom, but then she’s not a native speaker so I’m willing to cut her some slack.

All Hands on Deck

This was exciting stuff, especially that bit about the “title tussle”—sounds like a pro wrestling event or something you'd see at a topless bar. I’ve never been involved in a title tussle before and now here’s a total stranger offering me ringside seats.

And it gets even better because the princess has a ton of dough she’s looking to free up.

I am the only Daughter/person left in our family and because of this money (US$3.1M), I lost my Family and the Village/ his Rivals seized all our properties and froze our accounts by the new Government after the death of my beloved Father/Brother.”

The daughter person lost her beloved father/brother? That’s quite a kingdom, you got there, princess. Maybe you take a job on a luxury motor yacht and get away for a while.

After her relatives got whacked, the princess said she split for Burkina Faso, which translates as “the land of upright people,” and now she needs someone’s help to liberate all that money.

“Due to the pressure mounted on me, I therefore need your urgent assistance to move this money out from the Bank where it is right now. Although it will require you to act as (my father’s) Business Partner so that the Bank will effect the money in your account.”

This was getting better and better. I would commandeer the Princess Diana, lock Capt. David Charles, 50 Years Old from (England) United Kingdom in the head, and set sail for Burkina Faso.

I’d rescue the other princess, Achia Oyaba—wasn’t that a Beatles song?—and with all that money I could afford to buy real Joy instead of that generic crap. And maybe love would blossom between the princess and the lowly cabin boy and I could mount the right kind of pressure on her royal highness.

I was prepared for that, too, thanks to another e-mail entitled “Keep Your Erection” (I’ve got one of my own, thank you.), a free Viagra offer from “Be A God in Bed,” who, with a handle like that, should know a thing or two about the land of upright people.

So hoist up the John B's sail; see how the mainsail sets; call for the Captain ashore, I want to save the Princess.

But then my sea-faring fantasy was suddenly dashed against the rocks of cruel fate, a crushing blow that hit me right in the Achia Oyaba, and now there’s no Joy in Brooklyn.

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country.

Well, it was a nice dream, yacht, princess and all. I guess I’ll keep washing my dishes with the Blue Slime and think about how close I came to being a king--not to mention a God in bed.

But wait a second. I just got another e-mail from Mr. Nanado Benjamin, the Director In Charge of the Auditing Section of the Bank of Africa in—oh, yeah!--Burkina Faso.

Apparently the muskrats have gone wild again because one of his customers is deceased and now Nanado needs my “urgent business assistance” in transferring an abandoned sum of 27.7 million dollars immediately to my account.

Hang on, Princess, your cabin boy is on the way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Drive to Stratford Road

"So how’s your father?”

The question caught me off-guard—not only because my father died over two years ago, but because it came from a car service driver whom I mistakenly assumed was a total stranger.

My girlfriend and I were going to a party at my blogging buddy Flatbush Gardner's house and we had been talking to each other during the ride. I was feeling a little uneasy because I was ignoring the driver—I usually like to chat with them—but I thought I’d give the guy a break.

It had been a hectic day. My girlfriend was coming down from the Bronx to visit me and I was racing around all morning, doing my weekend chores and cleaning—or attempting to clean—my house so she wouldn’t faint or run out the door screaming when she saw the place.

And I was walking back from food shopping when I saw a young father and his little girl walking up Fifth Avenue.

The girl was blond, about 5 years old, and just beautiful. She was hopping around while her father was talking on a cell phone.

“Daddy, look at me,” she said and broke into a little dance step as soon as her father turned her way.

I felt a familiar twinge of envy and regret I get sometimes when I see someone with a young child and I wonder why I didn’t have children of my own. It’s pointless to go through this regret, but that’s never stopped me before.

And while I’m not a parent, my experience with my nieces has taught me how quickly time flies by and how little moments like the one the girl was having with her father are so precious and fleeting.

My nieces are 21 and 14 years old, respectively, but it wasn’t so long ago that they were doing the same kinds of funny things that little blond girl was doing and asking me to look at them.

Look while you still can, I thought. Look while they still want to share things with you.

I came home and promptly got into a death match with the vacuum cleaner, which first refused to pick up any dirt from the porch carpet and then wouldn’t shut off until I yanked the plug out of the wall.

I handled the situation in my usual way—freaking out, cursing, calming down, and then realizing that I was the one who screwed up.

In this case, the hose was in the wrong nozzle and the power switch was fine, it was just that--well, this is a little disturbing--I couldn’t find the damn thing—even though I just turned the machine on two minutes before.

Stuff like this makes me nervous. My father suffered from dementia and one of the first things I noticed when his mind started to slip was that he became very forgetful...kind of like me.

I finished cleaning the carpet, my girlfriend showed up, and I called car service. We could have gotten there by subway, but I didn’t want her taking any more trains after making that haul down from the Bronx. And I didn’t feel taking the damn subway either.

The car showed up, I told the driver the address on Stratford Road, and we were off...for half a block.

“Where is this place?” the driver asked.

“I don’t know,” I said with a slice of attitude. “That’s why I called you guys.”

The driver pulled over and began tapping the address into the GPS unit. I regretted being snippy so I patiently read the address to him a couple of times, slowly spelling out “Stratford Road.”

The directions popped up on the screen, the thing started talking, and off we went. GPS is great, but I find it a little creepy. What's wrong with maps? What's so bad about rolling down the window--or powering down the window--and asking a guy on the street "where the hell am I?"

You Can't Get There From Here

I have to admit that I was a little ashamed at being so clueless about finding this place.

My father would have known where Stratford Road was in a second and he would have given you the directions easily.

He learned the streets of Brooklyn the old fashion way—by driving on them for years as a salesman until you could toss any street name at him and he’d toss the directions right back at you.

He had his own GPS unit in his head before age and illness took it away from him.

But I was also feeling bad because I’ve been going through a rough patch with my father lately, recalling the bad memories I have of him—the fights, the times he hurt my feelings or when I swore I'd never talk to him again. He's been gone so long, but I still holding on to all this misery.

I have no trouble remembering the things I should forget, but ask me to find the switch on the vacuum cleaner and I go into vapor lock. I need an emotional GPS unit to guide me away from the nonsense and point me in the right direction.

We turned on to Stratford Road and the computer was telling us repeatedly that we had arrived at our destination, arrived at our destination, arrived at our destination...

“It’s a good thing that we have the GPS thing,” I said to the driver.

“Yes,” he said. “The machines tell us what to do and we do it.”

I was thinking just how true and how unsettling that thought really was. And that’s when he dropped the question on me.

“So how’s your father?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had no memory of meeting him—oh boy—but then he said he used to take me and my dad over to the V.A. hospital for his checkups. And it all came back.

He was the closest thing we had to a regular driver back then. As I recall, he was from Egypt and he had been an electrician or some kind of engineer in his home country--and now he was driving cars in Brooklyn.

I was embarrassed that he had recognized me first. I told myself that his sunglasses had thrown me off, but I think the real reason was that I just wanted to forget those days when I was going to the V.A. with my father.

They were very stressful times; my dad could be very difficult and there was always the danger of him starting a fight with somebody at that hospital. I was also quite impatient and I wasn’t working at the time, so there was a layer of self-loathing on top of the whole mess.

I told the driver that my father had died in January 2007. As I handed him the fare, he turned to my girlfriend.

“He’s a good man,” he said, pointing to me, “he takes care of his father.”

I felt the guilt welling up in me, ashamed of holding on to those harsh memories when I should have let them go. I'm not a good man, I thought, when I was taking my father to the V.A., I really wanted to be thousands of miles away.

I shook the driver’s hand, wished him well, and we went to the party. I'm really glad now that I took car service.

And I’m thinking of that little blond girl I saw on Fifth Avenue, and how, when I was her age, I wanted to please my father, too; how I wanted to share things with him.

And how I used to say, “Daddy, look at me.”

Friday, June 05, 2009

'Let Our Hearts Be Stout'

This is the prayer that FDR read to the nation on radio on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

There's a line towards the end when Roosevelt prays for "a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men" that makes me think of the modern day parasites who sent our soldiers into a disastrous war.

"Unworthy men" would be the best way to describe them, and, unfortunately, our soldiers, our nation, and our world were not invulnerable to their schemes.

So let us pray that we learned we have finally learned from our mistakes, as impossible as that sounds. And let's see if we can bring back that sense of purpose and unity that made such an incredible task like D-Day possible.

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation.

It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer.

As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances.

Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.

And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944