Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Right Leg

Oh, yeah, I really needed this.

It’s been 9 days since I somehow managed to injure my right leg and while it has improved a little bit, I’m still limping around like Long John Silver and dealing with a lot of pain.

And the worst thing is that I don’t know what the hell happened. All I can say is that I went to my gym last Friday, did my usual workout and went home feeling just fine.

A few hours later, though, I could barely walk and it hurt like hell when I tried to sit down.

I haven’t been this seriously laid up since I broke a bone in my arm while I was taking a jiu-jitsu back in the Seventies. And even then I heard the damn bone crack.

This time around I felt nothing and I’m starting to wonder if someone is sticking pins in a voodoo doll version of me.

I’m already living with the twin miseries of looking for an apartment and working with my sister to clean out our family home, so this little bit of grief is not appreciated.

What’s worse is that I’ll be feeling better one day and then be in terrible pain the next. This injury ain’t playing fair.

My doctor thinks this condition, which has something to do with my back, has been building up for a while. He took some blood tests and told me I have to sleep on my back with pillows under my legs to take the pressure off the discs.

I was waiting for him to say “for the next few weeks…” or “for a month…” but he swung for the fences and said “from now on.”

From now on? You mean as in forever? I’ve got to sleep like a space monkey until I limp off this mortal coil? Gee, that’ll do wonders for my love life.

I hate being laid up like this. I’m an exercise junkie so missing the gym is killing me. I’ve been trying to come up with alternate forms of exercise, but outside of push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups, there’s not much you can do with a bad leg.

No Mambo Tonight

I’ve had to change my lifestyle. All the stores that I normally walk to without a second thought are suddenly far away. My sister has kindly offered to drive to me some to places that are just a few blocks from my house. It doesn’t seem natural going to these stores in a car.

I can't kneel down to say my morning prayers and I can't fold my legs to mediate. I have gone back to working out with this chi gong DVD that I got while taking a class at The Open Center. It's helped a little bit.

I feel old and useless. My right foot flops loudly to the ground whenever I walk and I’m getting this tingling feeling running up my ankle.

I was sitting in my parent’s bedroom and caught sight of my late father’s cane hanging on a shelf. How soon will I need that, I wondered?

My doctor gave me all kinds of painkillers and I’ve been taking them with gleeful abandon—anything to make this agony go away, even if it’s only for a little while.

He wrote me a prescription for an X-ray, but warned me not to do get one unless I really felt I needed it.

“If you can avoid radiation,” he said, “do it.”

Good plan.

I’m trying to find the good in all of this, but it hasn’t been easy. I recall the words of Jack, an elderly gentleman I met in the Apple store recently.

“Be thankful for everything you have,” he said, “because one day you won’t have it.”

Now I’m getting it.

I probably shouldn’t put so much emphasis on my physical condition because that’s bound to change. And to be honest, this is nothing compared to the problems so many other people in this world are facing.

I’ve walking slower now. And I’ve been trying to be patient with people who are in my way. I’m attempting to deal with the anger I feel and I’m hoping to come out of this thing a happier human being.

Okay, so can I feel better now?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beastie Boy

I cranked up the DVR last week and took a ride through a sea of memories on the back of man-eating dinosaur.

I had recorded The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, an old time monster flick from 1953 that I watched scores of times when I was a kid.

I remember sitting with my family in the glow of the old Motorola and enjoying this classic that starts with an A-bomb blast in the North Pole and comes to a fiery climax at the Cyclone in Coney Island. (It was actually shot an amusement park in Long Beach, CA, but it's still pretty cool.)

There were no DVRs or DVDs back then, just plain old TV with commercials and everything. But we seemed to enjoy ourselves.

The plot? Well, let’s see. A nuclear test in the frozen north accidentally defrosts a prehistoric predator who does the backstroke down to the Big Apple, climbs out of the water and promptly does more damage to my hometown than Donald Trump.

The Seventh Seal it ain’t, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Named as the first movie to star a nuclear-awakened monster, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was supposedly inspired by a re-release of King Kong. The film, in turn, helped spark the birth of Gojira , or Godzilla as he's known in the States.

Beast features the work of two of my favorite Rays—author Ray Bradbury who wrote the short story credited with being the source for the screenplay and special effects wiz Ray Harryhausen, whose stop motion work brought the monster to life.

The creature is called the Rhedasaurus, which sounds like some kind of reference book, but it looks like no dinosaur known to man, something for which we can all be eternally grateful. Some observers say the “Rh” in the monster’s name is a reference to Ray Harryhausen’s initials.

The story goes that Bradbury looked over the script for a possible rewriting gig and mentioned that there was scene in the movie that was very similar to a short story he had written for the Saturday Night Post. (The monster pulls the plug on a lighthouse, one of my favorite scenes in the picture.)

The next day Bradbury received a telegram offering to the film rights to the story.

The Bronx is Up and the Battery is...Down!

Are We Delving into Mysteries We Weren’t Meant to Know?” The trailer asks. I hope so, or otherwise there would be no monster movies.

Is mankind challenging powers beyond the cosmic barriers?” What else is new?

Will science unleash the fearsome forces of unknown worlds?

Hey, enough with the questions already. Just shut up and watch the damn movie.

As with most of my favorite childhood films, I picked up on things in this movie now that I had missed entirely when I was a kid. For example, I noticed the flick has some rather outdated attitudes about atomic weapons.

“You know every time one of those things goes off,” one scientist says after detonating the nuke of the North, “I feel as if I was helping to write the first chapter of a new Genesis.”

Watching that scene in the comfort of my living room, I heard something crash to the floor and it took me a few seconds to realize it was my jaw. He said what? And with a straight face to boot?

I doubt seriously if the survivors if Hiroshima and Nagasaki would share that sentiment. They would probably think of something like The Book of Revelation and the whole Lake of Fire thing.

That particular scientist becomes the monster’s first victim but he soon has lots of company, as the beast sinks a ship, chomps on a bathysphere, knocks out that lighthouse and then goes on to New York.

Once on land, the Beast tears through the financial district like Bernie Madoff with a tail. To make matters worse, the monster’s blood is so toxic that soldiers and civilians alike keel over when they get near it.

Only one thing can save us:—Spoiler Alert—radiation!

The hero declares that the only way to kill the beast is to shoot it with a radioactive isotope. It has something to do with purifying his tainted blood though I’m a little dubious.

I don’t know much about isotopes and I suspect the people who made this movie didn’t either. No matter. Just remember radiation is your friend.

It was fun re-connecting with this old movie and recalling how we all enjoyed it so much.

I’m tempted to ask what the Sanitation Department did with that big monster carcass, but I don’t want to challenge powers beyond the cosmic barriers. I got enough problems.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simian Says

There’s an episode of the old Outer Limits TV show where David McCallum plays a Welsh coal miner who gets roped into a bizarre experiment that speeds up his own private evolution.

The man who played Ilya Kuryakin is transformed into the Freak of the Future with an extra finger, a Jiffy Pop cranium and some wicked psychic powers. This is progress?

In an attempt to reverse the situation, his girlfriend dials down the mutant machine a little too much and our hero gets Neanderthal for a few moments before he’s brought back to normal.

I always figured this was just science fiction, but a recent workout at my gym has me wondering more about de-evolution.

I take boxing classes at the New York Sports Club, which provide a great workout and allow you to imagine that you’re a tough guy for 55 minutes. Last week I stopped by the club near Lincoln Center for some early morning abuse.

The instructor ran a great class, breaking us up into pairs and having us hit a series of stations that he had set up throughout the room. We ran sprints, shadow-boxed with elastic bands on our ankles, pounded the heavy bags, and punched the focus pads—the teacher even put on body armor so we could whale on his ribs.

There was a point during the workout where you picked up a medicine ball and threw it against the wall so your partner could catch it and return the favor.

Simple, no? Oh, yes, indeed. It was so deliciously simple that I couldn’t get enough of it.

Medicine ball training is one of the oldest forms of exercise. I remember a scene in I, Claudius that featured two ancient Romans throwing a medicine ball back and forth. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, had his patients toss around medicine balls for both injury prevention and rehab.

Bedtime for Bonzo

I had a good sweat going by the time I got to this station and I started hurling that thing as hard as I could. It was fabulous.

Unlike barbells, dumbbells and various exercise machines, medicine ball training can be so gloriously crude. You don’t think about sets and repetitions and you certainly don’t worry about form. You don’t worry about anything, really.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more focused during a workout. I threw that big (faux?) leather ball up against the wall like I was trying to knock down the building. I was grunting with every throw and I could feel myself regressing, becoming more primitive…and I liked it.

I wasn’t feeling anger or rage. It was more like liberation. Where else can an adult who is not in a mental institution do something like this?

It was a great experience because by getting so loose I saw how uptight I am. For these brief few minutes I wasn’t concerned about what people thought of me or how I looked or what I had to do when I got home. I just chucked that big old matzah ball until the round ended.

Now I have to stress here that we obviously cannot go through life like huffing monkey people. I think a lot of the world’s problems come from humans acting like gorillas all too often. We as a species can be so obtuse that sometimes the only thing that seems to be separating us from the banana bunch are the Ipods jammed in our ears.

However, it is nice to do a little knuckle-walking now and then to remind us that too many thoughts spoil the brain.

At the climax of that Outer Limits episode, David McCallum is about to use his newly-acquired powers to zap his crappy home town into coal dust when his highly-developed noodle tells him that the prehistoric path is not the way to go.

You don’t need six fingers to figure that out.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

'I’ll Never Let You Go'

Children have this fabulous gift for shaking you up with just a few words.

I had this fact reinforced for me the other night when I was talking with Ben, my neighbor’s four-year-old.

Ben is a really sweet kid. He always greets me with this excited “hi!” whenever he sees me and then he’ll tell me what he’s up to and ask me all sorts of questions.

“He always looks for you,” his mother told me. Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I always look for him.

Last week while relaxing in Central Park, I got a Frisbee advertising the Museum of Modern Art and since I have no use for the thing, I gave it to Ben. He responded by giving me a hug that made me one very happy guy. It really is better to give than receive.

While I was speaking with Ben on his front stoop, he went and got the Frisbee and started reading all the information printed across the front of it. He did a pretty good job, too, except for pronouncing “MOMA” as “Momma.” Hey, close enough.

“Well, Ben,” I said finally, “I’d better go inside and have dinner.”

Maybe the words “dinner” and “momma” triggered something in his mind, but whatever the reason, Ben had a question for me.

“Where’s your mommy?”

I had nothing to say for a few seconds. My family will mark the ninth anniversary of mother’s death this week, so I was a little stunned.

“Oh, she’s gone,” I said. “She’s in Heaven.”

“She’s not coming back?” Ben asked.

“No,” I said, “she’s not.”

I started saying something about why it’s so important to be good to your mother while she’s still with you, but I stopped myself.

When you’re four years old you believe that Mommy will be around forever, that she’ll always be there to take care of you and make things right. There was no need to tell Ben otherwise.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a decade since I got the call from my mother’s doctor to get over to the hospital on Staten Island where she was being treated. She was gone before I arrived.

That was truly the worst day of my life, the day when I finally had to accept that Mommy wouldn’t be around forever. Though to be honest, I’m still having some trouble with that.

I have so many memories of my mother, but recently my sister shared something with me that I was too young to remember.

She recalled a time when I was a baby and my mother was holding me up in my playpen. She was tickling me, my sister said, making me laugh, while saying “I’ll never let you go!”

Naturally I started blubbering as soon as my sister told me this.

“That was supposed to be a happy memory,” she said with some exasperation.

I know, I know, but sometimes memories can be both precious and painful. The ones that fill your heart can also break it and you can laugh and cry at the same time.

I sometimes wish I had total recall so I could actually remember that day myself, but maybe it’s better to experience it second hand.

And now as we clean out our parents’ house and prepare to sell it, letting go is pretty much the order of the day. We’re taking the things we want—photos, furniture, and other such stuff—and giving away or throwing out the rest.

This is a very difficult process, as we resurrect all kinds of memories. It’s like getting open-heart surgery without the anesthetic.

My childhood is long over and the life we knew in our house is gone. It’s Ben’s turn to play and run around the backyard before coming inside to have dinner with Mommy. I hope he enjoys every minute of it.

We’ll sell the house and I’ll find somewhere else to live. But wherever I go, I want my mother to know one thing.

I’ll never let you go.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hand in Mirage

Strange dreams have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but I’ve had a few gems lately that were so twisted it’s a shame I couldn’t sell tickets.

First there was the dream of the sliding horses, which got weirder and weirder as it went on. A short time later, I dreamed I was walking down Main Street in Northampton, MA on a rainy afternoon when I saw my late father sitting on a rope swing that was tied to the branch of a large tree.

This was particularly upsetting because my father was in a state of serious mental and physical decline. He looked lost, with one shoe off and rocking back and forth on that swing. It was painful.

My aunt has a farmhouse in this area, so that explains the locale. And I had been traveling with my uncle—my dad’s brother—so maybe that’s why I saw my father. I just wish I had seen him at a better time in his life, but then the most recent memories are usually the freshest.

Still, as unusual as this dream was, it was mere fairy dust when compared with an experience I had a few nights later.

This particular fiasco was one of those rare four-alarm paint-peeling nightmares that are so truly awful that the moment I woke up I looked up at the ceiling and literally thanked God that it was all a dream.

Our story goes something like this: I am getting married and preparing to fly out to the West Coast with my family for the service.

However, on the night before the trip I realize that there’s one little problem.

My bride-to-be does not exist. She is actually someone I had dreamed up—while I was dreaming.

Now this can be a pretty serious issue if you plan on getting married. I’ve noticed that weddings tend to go much more smoothly if you have two people at the altar. (On the other hand, I suppose a one-person divorce would be a breeze.)

Please understand that I was not deliberately lying to my family. I genuinely believed that I had a loving fiancée waiting for me in California.

She Was Here A Minute Ago...

As soon as I realized what was going on, I did what I do best: I freaked. I ran around in circles wondering what was I going to do, what was I going to tell my family, and why the hell was I imagining phantom brides in the first place?

The next thing I remember I was talking to a friend of mine—we’ll call him “Phil”--whom I had not seen in a while. We had a bit of a falling out over politics—his are completely wrong—so I think seeing him in the dream reflected my desire to patch things up with him.

But Phil also brought along his chronically hot girlfriend and I’m ashamed to say that my devious little dream mind was thinking that maybe I could somehow swipe her from Phil and make her my emergency fiancée—sort of a fill-in-the-blank bride.

I cautiously floated the idea to my sister, who showed up in this nocturnal train wreck, telling her something like “you know, Phil has a real nice girlfriend…”

And that was as far as I got. My sister instantly saw the perverted path I was taking—something she’s very good at in real life—and let me have it.

“That’s disgusting!” she shouted before doing an abrupt about face and walking away. All right, all right, it was just a freaking suggestion

And then I’m in a psychiatrist’s office--can’t imagine why. The shrink gives me some Prozac, but for some reason I walk out without paying the guy. (My relatives say this sounds just like me--hrumpf!)

I was convinced the doctor was going to have me busted, so I probably should have popped a few happy pills just to calm down before the cops hauled me off to the calaboose.

I tell you waking up never felt so good.

Clearly, this nightmare shows that I have a strong desire to settle down. So strong that I skipped some important details--like having a partner. But there are a few lessons here, too.

You can’t sleepwalk through life; you can’t fantasize your way into happiness, and you’ve got to get out into the real world if you want to meet the person of your dreams.

Now pass the Prozac: I’ve got to return my dream tuxedo before I lose the deposit.