Monday, May 30, 2011

The Last Sunbeam

Dirge for Two Veterans by Walt Whitman

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rob, 54, Where Are You?

And so I’m now 54 years old.

I’ll skip all the “I’m so old” and “where did the time go?” crap because this is a day for celebration not flagellation.

A lot of nice things happened today. My sister treated me to a delicious dinner, I received some very nice cards, and I got a ton of birthday wishes from all my friends on Facebook.

Plus Modell’s sent me a discount coupon in honor of my birthday and if that isn’t cause for unrestrained merriment I don’t know what is.

I started the day early with a 7am boxing class because even though it’s my birthday, it’s also gym day and I never miss a chance for a little self-abuse.

I pushed things today as I tried to keep up with a much younger classmate during a heavy bag workout. I survived the class, but towards the end I began to understand how the bag felt.

My niece likes to tease me about not straining myself "because of your age and your condition." I'm starting to think she may be on to something.

We had our annual health fair at work and I sat down for a five-minute Reiki session. It was fantastic. I could feel my body relaxing, my shoulders coming down, and my breath slowing. And this woman hardly touched me. I have to investigate this further.

I was listening to an interview with the talk show host Tavis Smiley and he mentioned that he does not make resolutions on New Year’s Day. He said he prefers to take stock of himself on his birthday, “the day God brought me into this world.”

I like that. On January 1 it’s you and all the other losers making grand promises. But your birthday is your day to make plans for the rest of your time here on earth.

I made a friend last week while attending a one-to-one session at the Apple store on Prince Street. His name is Jack and he is 91-years-old.

“My kids are all older than you,” he said when I told him my age.

Jack is a kind of local celebrity at the Apple store. All the employees seemed to know him and anyone who doesn’t will soon make his acquaintance—a shrinking violet he ain’t.

He started the conversation by asking me if it was still raining out and pretty soon he was pumping my hand and telling me about his years making instruments for the shipping business.

Jack lamented how people today have no idea that the shipping industry really built New York. Jack told me that his grandson, a TV producer in L.A., had treated him to a $2,200 laptop when Jack wanted a cheaper model.

“I asked him why he did that,” Jack said, “and he said, “because Grandpa, you’re the only one left.’ I kissed him on both cheeks.”

Jack recently called his grandson and asked him when he was coming to New York again. When the grandson asked why, Jack told him, “I need a new camera.”

Jack showed me photos of the New York waterfront he had on his laptop and told me stories about the great shipping lines. I could’ve listened to him all night but I had a session to attend. I gave him my card and I hope I see him again.

I’m thinking about all the times I whine about growing old and then I look at this man, who will be 92 in December, and see how happy and vibrant he is. I’m so glad I met him and I'm proud to say that I know Jack.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spam I Am

Do you want to be happy every day?

Save your money and time. Don’t miss the chance of your life!

Just trust me and life will change to better immediately. Just do it! You won’t be disappointed!

I want to help you with your infernal ache. I know the place where you can buy the best drugs.

The preceeding statements were made in my name, but I had nothing to do with them.

My email contact list was hijacked recently so everybody on it received messages about the secrets of sexual attraction, were told that sex is the only satisfaction, and advised that “OMG! I have never had such a long sex!” and “LOL! It’s the funniest thing in the world!”

Only it wasn’t funny at all. It was downright creepy. I got messages from so many people demanding to know what the hell going on. There’s nothing quite like having an ex-girlfriend writing to find out why you sent her an ad for cheap Viagra.

The only satisfaction for me would have been finding the idiots responsible for this spam-icide and inflicting them with an infernal ache that could never be cured—even with the best drugs.

I changed my email password as soon as I learned what was going on. I sent out emails explaining the situation, but I realized that there were a number of people on my contact list with whom I have had no contact at all. I’m not even sure who some of them are.

I suspect that this breach may have occurred during my vacation when I was using various hotel computers. That’ll teach me to monkey around with the Internet while I’m traveling.

A recent New York Times article said spam is still on the menu, despite filtering technologies, legal investigations, and convictions.

“Seven years after the famous prediction by Bill Gates, then chairman of Microsoft, that spam would be eradicated in just two years,” the story said, “about 90 percent of all e-mail is spam.”

I’m so glad that the world didn’t come to an end on Saturday as these rapture loons had been predicting. Oy vey iz mir, I have enough sins on my slate already without having to explain to the Lord why I was sending out pornographic emails. (I wrote about these people last year. )

And it didn’t help that on this very same day I went to my local grocery store and rang up a bill for—I swear to God—$6.66. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten that beef jerky.

I thought for sure that with a number like that my number would be up and I’d have an eternal infernal ache, but then a funny thing happened on the way to Armageddon—it didn’t happen.

Shocking, no?

Apparently humanity is hard to eradicate--just like spam.

A few hours after the world was supposed to have ended, I was walking through the Atlantic Avenue subway station when I saw a group of Mennonites singing hymns in the passageway where 24 hours earlier one of the rapture artists had been handing out pamphlets.

These people were so white, so incredibly Caucasian, they were almost glowing. It looked as if they had been raptured straight out of Kansas and dumped into Brooklyn.

But they seemed nice and they sang their hymns so beautifully. One of them even gave me a free CD. Unfortunately, the CD came with this little handout that went on about the lake of fire and the wages of sin. At least the music was pleasant.

I have to admit that some good came out of all this e-monkey business. I had a nice exchange with my ex and I got a call from a friend of mine whom I had not spoken with in years.

I surprised to hear from him—I hadn’t made the spam connection yet—and we were having a great conversation when my friend shifted gears and said, “by the way, I got this email from you…”

LOL! It was the funniest thing in the world!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I made a new friend on my vacation and while she’s not very good at her job, she did teach me an important lesson.

Her name is Gigi and she's not an actual person—that’s the name my uncle and his wife gave to their car’s Global Positioning System (GPS).

I haven’t owned a car in years, I rarely drive, and I’ve never used GPS. I supposed it’s good idea, but it feels a little creepy to have some device telling you to turn here and turn there. I went through this once with the nuns in Catholic school and I don't feel like repeating the experience.

I’ve got a cell phone that will mouth off without warning, asking me to please repeat my command, even though I haven’t made a command. This keeps happening, usually at the worst possible moments, and I can't turn the damn thing off. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve been known to pick up the phone and shout “drop dead!” in public places. Maybe I should calm down a little.

But I got to like Gigi. She had some severe directional issues, which admittedly is rather serious given the fact that the sole reason for her existence is to give people directions.

Whenever we came close to an intersection, Gigi would tell us to make a turn, even though she was dead wrong. I don’t what her problem was, but in the immortal words of my late father, Gigi couldn’t find her ass with her two hands--assuming she had an ass and two hands to find it with.

My uncle rightly ignored her and proceeded to go his own way. We made a game of mocking Gigi and telling her to clam up, but I finally noticed something about Gigi’s reactions.

Every time we blew off Gigi’s advice, she would pause, say “recalculating” in her fembot voice and offer a fresh set of directions at the next available turnoff.

We ignored those new directions, too, but that didn’t slow Gigi down at all, and she’d promptly come up with another batch of directions.

I liked how Gigi kept her cool. She didn’t shriek when we ignored her, she didn’t whine, or wail “why me?” and fall to the ground sobbing.

She just quietly regrouped, came up with a new plan, and kept doing her job. She wasn’t at all distracted or discouraged. At one point she did go into silent mode, but I didn't take it personally.

I waste a lot of time thinking about things in the past or worrying about events in the future—just about anything other than what I should be focusing on.

While I was on vacation, I caught myself dwelling on some incidents from years ago and I remember thinking that I should come up with some kind of trigger word that would return me to the present. Well, I think I’ve found my word: Recalculating.

It certainly worked for Gigi, so I’ve tried adopting her method for my EPS, or Emotional Positioning System. Whenever I get distracted—or more accurately, whenever I distract myself--I try saying the word “recalculating.”

This reminds that I’m wasting precious time and gets me back to the problems at hand. If I get angry about those hideous nuns, babbling cell phones, or various rotten people in my life, it's time to recalculate.

Thanks, Gigi. I owe you one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Infernal Falls

My sister and I stood on the trail to Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park wondering what to do next.

It was pretty intimidating. The falls, which measure 317 feet, were crashing to one side, while the narrow and rather soggy path before us seemed to snake right up to the sky.

Neither one of us is very good with heights and we had a lot of climbing to do before we reached the top.

What the hell am I doing here? I thought. I’m not Sir Edmond Hillary. I’m just a schmoe from Brooklyn.

“It’s up to you,” my sister said.

Oy, I was afraid of that.

I really didn’t want to go any farther, but then I didn’t want to come on this trip to California in the first place because I really didn’t want to get on a plane, and I really didn’t want to leave Brooklyn and God forbid I should break up my precious little routine for 10 entire days. The way back down looked so inviting.

“Let’s go a little higher,” I finally said.

And so we did. When we got to the next level, I saw that the last leg of the trip was just before us and then I thought, what the hell, we came this far, let’s finish this thing.

Naturally, the last leg was the toughest, consisting of a narrow stone staircase slapped up against the side of the mountain with nothing but a wire fence separating you from a nasty tumble into the great beyond.

You had to share the space with these pesky goddamn tourists who always managed to be going in the wrong direction, which, of course, is the opposite of the direction I was heading.

But we did it. The falls were beautiful and Yosemite is a tremendous location. We also checked out El Capitan and spotted some of the lunatics trying to scale that 3,000-foot monstrosity. I didn’t join them as there is something about hanging off the side of a mountain that doesn’t agree with me.

My uncle and his wife drove us all over the place before we headed on to Lake Tahoe, where I got sunburned during a lengthy boat ride.

I couldn’t help it. After that godawful winter we just had I’m naturally drawn to the sun.

While in Tahoe, we sneaked over to the Nevada side where I lost a buck at the cheapo slots. I felt like I was in a time warp as I read casino marquees announcing upcoming acts like Eric Burdon & The Animals, Sammy Hagar, and Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Next we headed back to L.A., where we checked out the Hollywood Bowl, the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the El Capitan Theater (I can’t escape that thing). I did this routine many years ago, but it was fun playing tourist again.

This vacation was supposed to happen back during Christmas, but my sister and I had to scrub that trip due to illness. As this second attempt grew closer, I went through my traditional travel breakdown: I shouldn’t go, I have too much work to do, it’s too expensive, and all that assorted crap.

And now I’m back in Brooklyn, back to my precious little routine. The days just flew by and I enjoyed every single one of them. I’m so glad we went and I’m really happy that we kept on climbing.