Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

The limo pulled up to my house right on time this morning, ready to take me off to CNN's studio in Manhattan.

I was to be a guest on the morning program for a Memorial Day segment. I had been invited to read a poem that my father had written about his experience as a soldier in World War II. And I still couldn’t believe it was happening.

I was a mess. I had spent the previous day conjuring up all sorts of gruesome scenarios and whining to friends, family and anybody else I could tackle about all the catastrophes that were surely waiting for me just around the bend.

Is any of this news to people who know me? I didn’t think so.

“Take a reprieve from the negativity,” my ex-girlfriend told me. “This is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

I had actually turned down the offer of a car--thank you, Sister Frances-- and volunteered to come to the studio by subway, but my ex lit a fire under my butt and told me to get the damn limo.

The TV appearance was a follow up to a story about the poem, which, in turn, had been sparked by a blog posting on a site maintained by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The people at the DCoE had come across the poem after I posted it on my blog in 2007.

My sister and I had discovered the poem in her old bedroom, which had been converted into a rather chaotic storeroom over the years. Believe me, when I posted the poem, "Murder So Foul," three years ago, I never thought I’d end up on TV.

The ironic thing here is that I used to work at the old and back then the producers were forever trying to get me to go on the TV side to talk about my stories. I was always too scared to take the plunge, but now here I was jumping off the ledge.

I’ve always been a rapid speaker, so I made sure to rehearse reading the poem again and again over the weekend. I had taken two solo performer classes at The People’s Improv Theatre and that experience showed me that nothing beats practice.

The CNN producer had also taught me a radio announcer’s trick of bending your ear forward so your voice takes on this echo quality--it forces you to really pay attention to the way you speak. It reminded me of Gary Owens on the old Laugh-In program, who used to broadcast from “beautiful downtown Burbank.” But it works.

Once I got to the studio I was ushered into the make-up room, where I got my head and face dusted to cut down on the glare. My head could produce enough glare to light Carnegie Hall, so this was probably a wise move.

I went to wait in the Green Room—seriously, the Green Room—and tried not to have a nervous breakdown. I took out my parent’s prayer cards—St. Patrick for my father and St. Martin de Porres for my mom—kissed them both and prayed for strength. Then it was show time.

My knowledge of TV production is somewhere south of zero because I actually walked in there expecting to be in the same studio as the reporter conducting the interview.

You're On the Air

Swing and a miss. The anchor, Brooke Baldwin, was in Atlanta, I believe, while I was in New York, seated before a giant camera with an earpiece plugged into my head and a microphone clipped to my jacket. Gosh, ain't technology grand?

The lights came on and I started answering questions about the poem. It felt a little strange because of the time delay, but I got used to it. I saw my hands coming up as I was trying to make a point—I am half-Italian, after all—and I mentally screamed “down, boy!

Then it was time to read the poem. And...I think it came out okay. Other then one rough patch toward the end when my throat was going dry, it felt all right.

It seems like seconds later I was back in the limo, loosening my tie and taking congratulatory phone calls from my sister and auntie. I had survived. And I was in a limo.

On the way home I shot the breeze with the limo driver, asking him how he can stand driving all day with so many freaks on the road.

“I don’t let it get to me,” he said. “If I did, I’d go crazy.”

I liked the attitude. We talked about the importance of preserving family memorabilia, so vital documents don’t end up forgotten in boxes for years on end. The driver told me that his mother had recently died.

She had been a poet and had left behind a sizeable body of work, which he said he still hadn’t gotten around to filing. I encouraged him to at least scan the documents into his computer so they would safely stored somewhere.

We talked more about families and forgetting the past and the driver brought up Yom Kippur, where people both seek and grant forgiveness.

“You can’t ask God for forgiveness if you don’t forgive others,” he said.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trepass against us, I thought.

I came home to more supportive emails and phone calls and I really thank everyone for their kindness. I'm glad I put my fear aside and went through with this.

I'm happy that my father's work was finally heard by a mass audience. And I hope I did it justice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

'Roaring Virile Fire'

Last week, a 53-year-old computer sciene professor in China was sent to prison for organizing and participating in at least 18 orgies.

The professor, a member of swingers clubs that engaged in group sex and partner swapping, was charged with “crowd licentiousness,” which is probably more fun than being licentious all by yourself.

One of the things that struck me about this story—aside from the fact that he held these events in a two-room apartment that he shared with his Alzhemier's-afflicted mother—was the defendant’s online chat room handle: “Roaring Virile Fire.”

Now that's what I call a handle. I turned 53 today and I've decided that I’m going to adopt this nom de schwantz to mark this auspicious occasion. Since the original RVF is going to be busy for a while, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Usually I mark my birthday by spending the day moping and whining about how old I’m getting, how little I’ve accomplished, what the hell is wrong with me, etc.

But then I realized that I do this every day—not every birthday, but every single freaking day. So instead of whining, I'm going to celebrate my birth. I'm going to thank God I’m still here when plenty of people never reach this milestone.

When I was a junior in college, I was talking with a classmate about where I thought I would be in five years.

“Just make sure you’re above ground,” my friend said. Only now do I see that he was right on the money.

My sister and auntie kicked off the celebration a little early by taking me to the theater on Saturday where we saw Christopher Walken—talk about a roaring virile fire--starring in Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane.

McDonagh is the singularly twisted individual who gave us, among other works, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Cripple of Inishmaan and the film In Bruges.

What a perfect match—McDonagh creates this bizarro violent universe and puts Walken at the center of it. The thing was off the hook: sharp dialogue, bondage, gunshots, incredibly foul language, and a stage strewn with severed human hands. You won't see that in Cats.

After the show we hung around outside the theater, hoping we’d catch sight of the big guy, but it didn’t happen. We did see the other cast members, though, and Jeff Goldblum, who had starred in an earlier McDonagh play, The Pillowman, came walking out of the stage door for some reason.

"Loved you in Buckeroo Banzai!" one theater-goer shouted as Goldblum and his companion walked down the block.

While I've seen him plenty of times on TV and in movies, I hadn’t seen Christopher Walken on stage since 1991—ye gods-when we caught him in Shakespeare in the Park playing Iago in Othello.

Walken wore a leather jacket for the performance and I sarcastically referred to him as Iago Dice Clay. The late Raul Julia portrayed Othello and he died three years later from complications from a 54 years old.

Closer to home, I learned last week that Jack Rundle, a Stroudsburg, Pa. detective I knew while I was a police reporter at The Pocono Record had died. I worked with Jack on a lot of stories and he was always straight with me. I hadn't spoken with him in years, but I was still shocked to learn that he was gone.

On a happier note, I walked into Trinity Church last Wednesday for the afternoon service and saw that Willy, one of the church regulars, had returned after a long absence.

Willy is a fixture at Trinity. When it comes time during mass to give the sign of peace, Willy makes a point of shaking hands with nearly half of the congregation. He makes everyone feel welcome. But a few months ago he stopped coming and I never could find out why.

Then on Wednesday, there he was, in his usual pew. I greeted him and he told me that he had suffered a stroke. I was amazed because Willy is a big, bulky guy and he appears to be a fairly young man. Seeing him back in the fold was an early birthday present for me.

During the sermon, Rev. Mark talked about making changes in our lives. He said if you can’t actually succeed in changing, then we should at least have that desire to change.

“If you can’t forgive someone,” he said, “then at least desire to forgive them. If you’re having trouble becoming a better person, then desire to improve.”

He got me thinking about the goals I have not reached, the big plans that have yet to happen. I wonder now if I really had the desire to attain these things or was I just paying them lip service.

How hard have I really worked to get something I want? How much did I believe in myself when I sit down to write—or am I burning up time thinking that writing is so hard, so few people ever succeed, and, of course, I'm so old?

It’s pretty obvious where this negative thinking has gotten me and while positive thinking is no guarantee of success, it's better than giving up before you even get started.

During the feast of the Epiphany in January, the staff at Trinity handed out business cards to each parishoner bearing a single word. Under the heading “A Gift for You,” the card encouraged to seek out “a-ha” moments connected to our special word.

My word turned out to be “light” and I couldn't be happier. I can sink into darkness very quickly without even noticing it, so a word that keeps me in the sunshine is just what I need.

Now it's time to celebrate. Throw another log on that roaring virile fire and be glad you're still above ground.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lost Empire

I saw David Lynch’s Inland Empire yesterday…or was it tomorrow? Whenever it was, I wish to hell I hadn’t.
Now I happen to be a big David Lynch fan. Who could forget Dennis Hopper’s priceless "don't fucking look at me" scene and the "In Dreams” lip synch in Blue Velvet? I enjoyed Mulholland Drive no end--and not just for the smoking hot girl-on-girl scene, you dirty-minded buggers.

Back in the Nineties, when I was living in Pennsylvania, I couldn't get enough of Twin Peaks. I even attended a Peaks party at a bar in Easton.

So I was pretty psyched when I ripped open the Netflix envelope and slid the Inland Empire disc into my DVD player. After a hard day at work, I was looking forward to some inspired weirdness.

The trouble started as soon as I hit the “Play” button and heard my DVD player rumbling like a station wagon stuck in the mud. I tried cleaning the disc but it still wouldn’t play.

Talk about a sign from God. It couldn’t have been any plainer if it had been a burning bush: stay the hell away from this movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the divine hint.

Disappointed, I went through the list of movies I had recorded on my DVR and to my surprise I found that I had actually recorded Inland Empire a few weeks ago and forgotten all about it. What luck!

Yes, what luck, indeed. Only it turned out to be all bad. For nearly three hours I stared at my TV in stunned disbelief as Laura Dern stumbled through this cinematic nightmare vainly searching for anything resembling a plot.

I would tell you what the film was about, but I have no idea. It had something to do with an actress remaking an old movie where the two lead performers had been murdered. After that, you’re on your own.

Lynch has said in interviews that he had initially planned to shoot a series of unrelated scenes, but then he saw that the stories were connected. I’m certainly glad he saw some connection because all I saw was a pile of drivel.

There are people singing and screaming and dancing and talking, talking, talking. There’s a scene on a stage someplace with people wearing rabbit heads, yes, rabbit heads. It just goes on and on. It was like being trapped in a Salvador Dali painting.

“You dyin', lady,” a street person tells a fallen Laura Dern at one point. Me, too!

If this had been somebody else, I’d say he was being a pretentious imbecile and leave it at that. But I strongly suspect that Lynch actually believes in what he’s doing, and that’s pretty scary in its own right.

It feels like he unscrewed the top of his head, pointed a camera into his brain, recorded whatever was going on in there and threw it all on the screen.

I’m all in favor of directors taking risks. God knows we need that with all the crap we have in theaters today. But there is an important difference between genius and gibberish.

I couldn’t wait to delete this movie from my DVR and I was in such an awful mood that I switched to the boxing matches on Telemundo. I didn't understand a word the commentators were saying, but it still made more sense than the movie.

I have to say that I am in the distinct minority in my dislike for this movie. Inland Empirewas chosen by "Les Cahiers du cinéma" as one of the 10 best pictures of 2007 and the posts on the IMDB message boards run heavily in favor of this movie as a ground-breaking masterpiece.

One poster said that anyone who didn’t like this movie “should go back to reality TV.” I don’t watch reality TV shows, but I’ll even give Jersey Shore a try before revisiting to this dumpster fire.

I checked my Netflix queue and saw that I had also ordered Inland Empire: Bonus Material, which promises 190 freaking minutes of “deleted scenes, a behind the scenes look at Lynch, interviews with Lynch and Laura Dern and more.”

Deleted scenes? The whole movie should have been deleted. And I wish I could have conducted that interview with David Lynch. My first question would have been “what the hell is wrong with you?”

I scratched this DVD from my queue, but I haven't given up on Lynch. I believe he is an important filmmaker and I will continue to watch his movies--as long as its not fight night on Telemundo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blogfest is Coming

All right, bloggers, prepare yourselves: the Fifth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest is going to happen on Tuesday, June 8th.

This yearly get-together of the borough's bloggers will kick off at 7 pm at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 Fourth Avenue at President Street in Park Slope.

I've been going to Blogfest for the last three years now and I've had a blast every time. You get a chance to meet the people behind the keyboards, exchange ideas, expand your horizons and guzzle alcoholic beverages.

This year's event will include a video tribute to Brooklyn's most visionary photo bloggers, special networking sessions for like-minded bloggers (i.e. Blogs of a Feather), the return of the ever-popular Shout-out when bloggers are invited to share their blogs with the world (moderated by yours truly), and a roof-raising after-party with ABSOLUT® VODKA cocktails, food and music. There will also be--dare I say it?--surprise special guests. There, I said it.

"The borough of Brooklyn has always been front and center in the world of blogging," says Louise Crawford, founder of the Brooklyn Blogfest and "Whether you live by a blog, blog to live, or live to blog, you'll want to come out on June 8."

Doors open at 6:30 pm and this event is free, yes, free. Now you have no excuse not to attend, so don't let me down.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mime Games

I had a lovely conversation with a mime the other night.

She was off-duty, so she was able to speak with me rather than act out her responses. Her name was Margot and I met her on the 59th Street train station in Brooklyn.

I had just gotten off the N train and joined the rest of the lost souls who wait, and wait, and wait for the R train to arrive so we can finish the last leg of our journey home. Bay Ridge residents often refer to these trains as the "Rarely" and the "Never," which should give you an idea of what the service is like.

As I walked up the platform I saw a young woman sitting on a small suitcase. She looked so different from everybody else on the platform, so happy, that when our eyes met, we smiled.

I was going to leave it at that and keep walking, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy life a little.

“You’ve got your own chair,” I said.

She laughed and we kept on talking. She told me she was a mime, which was intriguing since I never met a mime before. And I have to confess that I’ve never been a really big mime fan, but that was starting to change.

“Do you get much mime work?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I do parties and weddings.”

“What about wakes?” I asked.

She laughed and said no, but you never know—it might catch on and Margot could start a new trend. I kept asking more mime-related questions when Margot shot back with a query of her own.

“Would you like me to perform for you now?” she asked.

I was taken aback. She wants to mime me, here, in front of all these strangers? I’d tried to imagine standing there and getting a one-on-one Marcel Marceau.

It felt illicit, even sinful, which, of course, would be all the more reason to say yes. Everyone in that station would wonder who is this guy with his own private mime.

But, of course, I turned her down. I'm rather uptight. I didn’t think it would be right—even though she was offering. I have these feelings of unworthiness, that I don’t deserve things, even when people say it’s okay.

It’s very frustrating. Even mimes can express themselves, for Christ’s sake, and they don’t speak. I’m sub-mime.

So I regret to say I didn’t get a chance to see Margot do “Walking against the Wind” or any other routines, but I’m sure she’d be great at it.

We talked some more and I could tell Margot was not a native Brooklynite—there are so few of us left. She was far too friendly and outgoing to be a hardened New Yorker.

“Where did you come from?”

“Heaven,” she quipped.

“Good one,” I said, giving her a thumbs up and a rimshot.

She is actually from Florida and she’s only been in New York for a short time. She’s an actress as well as a mime, and she had just auditioned for a part in The Fantasticks.

For once the goddamn local showed up quickly—thanks for nothing, MTA!—and we got on board. Margot had trouble keeping her balance on a moving train, more evidence that she’s a New York newbie.

“How do you like Bay Ridge?”

“It’s nice,” she said. “People here are very friendly. There aren’t that many artists living here, though.”

“No,” I said. “You have to go to Park Slope for that.”

Now, I just want to say right here and now that I’m sure there are plenty of talented people living in Bay Ridge. We’ve got Pauley Walnuts, whom I’ve seen at least twice in my travels. But Park Slope does have that artistic reputation.

My stop came up and I gave Margot my card and wished her well. I made my next stupid mistake by not getting any contact information from her—nice going, nitwit.

But if nothing else I had a very pleasant experience on the subway and believe me that doesn’t happen too often. Margot is like so many young people who come here pursing their dreams and I really hope she makes it.

Maybe I’ll run into her again on the subway platform. Or maybe I’ll see her on the stage, or walking around Bay Ridge in search of Pauley Walnuts. And when I do see her I’m going to that mime show.