Sunday, December 30, 2012

Whose God Is It, Anyway?

I guess those kids I heard singing on Christmas Eve were wrong.

My sister and I went to a folk mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Ridge last week to get into the holiday spirit. It was nice to see the children all dressed up for the Christmas pageant, but I confess I prefer the old carols to the folk tunes.

One particular song repeated the line “God is Love” so many times I was tempted to jump up and shout, “Enough already! We got it!”

I’m glad I kept my mouth shut because it seems that no matter how many times you say “God is Love,” a lot of people still aren’t getting the message. And some never will.

I’m referring specifically to these so-called “religious leaders” and their stooges who claim that the horrific slaughter of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was God’s judgment on us.

Really? And since when did God become Hannibal Lector?

Apparently these beautiful children were cut down in a hail of bullets because we don’t allow prayer in schools. Or because gay people are getting married, or because there are too many single mothers, or some other bit of medieval reasoning that says God is just itching to clobber us if we don’t toe the holy line.

Of course these people are despicable. They’re so desperate to get some kind of media attention—and squeeze more dollars out of their dimwitted disciples—they’ll say absolutely anything.

They’re following the same demented path as that Bible-thumping mutant Jerry Falwell, who famously blamed the 9/11 attacks on gays, lesbians, and the ACLU.

We can only hope this current crop of zealots will follow in Falwell’s hoof-prints and march off straight to hell where they belong.

As someone who was standing across the street when those planes hit the World Trade Center, I feel compelled to remind everyone that the lunatics who perpetrated 9/11 thought they were doing God’s work, too.

For the record, I pray to the God of Love, not Don Corleone. I believe in divine forgiveness, not sadistic retribution. If you need religious justification for mass murder, perhaps you should join al-Qaeda.

See You in Church

I love how these saintly schmucks say such disgusting things and then wonder why people are turning away from the church. Maybe they should take a nice long look in the mirror—provided they can do so without puking.

As long as psychotics in America are able to get their hands on assault rifles, the killings will continue. Even the good Lord can’t do much about that.

When I look at these alleged Christians, I can’t help but think of Rev. Mark, a priest at Trinity Church where I attend weekly services. He never speaks of punishment or damnation when he talks about God. It’s always about love.

After Sandy Hook, Rev. Mark, who is the father of a young boy, stood before us and spoke plainly and honestly about the shootings.

“I don’t know if I could survive if this had happened to my son,” he said. “I don’t know if I could go on living.”

He didn’t say the massacre was God’s will. He didn’t say we were being punished. He just spoke from his heart.

Once during a sermon a few months ago, Rev. Mark quoted a line from an old Lou Rawls song called “Love is A Hurtin’ Thing” that goes “maybe I'm a fool to keep on loving you.”

“In that case,” Rev. Mark told us, “then God is the biggest fool of all.”

I almost fell out of my pew when I heard that one. Did this guy just call the Almighty a fool?

After all those years of Catholic school, I was convinced the ground would split open and the ghosts of all my old grammar school nuns would come shrieking out from the fiery pits and rip us all to shreds.

But Rev. Mark continued.

“He loves no matter what we do,” Rev. Mark said. “He always forgives us.”

All right, then. That’s the God I pray to, worship, and love. That’s the God I turn to in times of strife and misery. And Rev. Mark is the man I’ll go to for spiritual guidance. You’ve got to love a guy who quotes Lou Rawls in church.

Let the crackpots keep their vengeful demon. I know that my God really is Love.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Heavenly Peace

While riding the bus into lower Manhattan one morning last week, I saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk.

He was leaning against a building at the corner of Greenwich and Morris Streets. There was a small cloth bag next to him, which I suppose carried all his worldly possessions, and he had a small piece of a Christmas tree propped up against the bag.

It was heart breaking to see that this man, who didn’t even have a roof over his head, was still determined to celebrate Christmas in some small way.

I think of all the complaining I do, how I moan about the pressure of the holidays, but this poor man had managed to find some joy in this world.

If you’re still searching for the true meaning of Christmas, look no further.

I recalled yet another image from A Christmas Carol, where Marley’s ghost forces Scrooge to look down at the street below to a young woman and her child shivering in the cold.

The pair were surrounded by wandering spirits, people like Marley, who had failed to help their fellow human beings in life, and so were condemned to walk the earth after death pleading mutely on behalf of those in need to a heartless, uncaring world.

It was hard not to think of those wandering spirits as I looked at this homeless man. The spot where he had chosen to sit is actually very close to one of the few bright spots of my morning commute.

There’s an office building on the next block where someone on one of the upper floors has set up two large teddy bears by the window.

These things are huge—I’d swear one of them is almost man-sized. Their backs face the window, but I like to keep an eye out for them as I ride to work. They remind me that there’s still some pockets of tenderness in this city.

But obviously we don’t have enough tenderness; the wandering spirits are still crying out to us.

It’s seems so wrong that stuffed animals have a warm place to stay, while just a short distance away a human being is forced to live on the sidewalk.

People may complain about the homeless, but it’s important to remember that the very first Christmas in Bethlehem began with a homeless family.

We should remember that as we sit down to have dinner with our loved ones today. We should think of people like that man I saw and imagine what it would be like to trade places with him.

The wandering spirits had no voices, but we do. And it’s time for us to speak out, loud and clear.

Merry Christmas and may God bless us, every one.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Angel Voices

There’s a scene in A Christmas Carol where the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Ebenezer Scrooge back in time to a holiday party being hosted by Scrooge’s old boss, Mr.Fezziwig.

Scrooge is overjoyed to see his former employer and fondly recalls how kind Fezziwig had been to his workers. The Ghost, however, is not impressed.

“He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money,” the spirit says. “Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

Scrooge explains that the happiness Fezziwig gave to his clerks by throwing this bash was as “quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

It was a lesson that Scrooge had forgotten—that it often doesn’t take a great deal of effort to make people happy. And I saw both sides of that lesson in the last 48 hours.

Christmas is almost here and while the holidays can be a difficult time of the year, I do enjoy listening to the carols.

The first Christmas hymns started to appear in fourth century Rome and I must say that the holiday has produced some of the most beautiful music of all time.

I am, of course, referring to the old timey carols, like "O Holy Night,” and “I Saw Three Ships,” as opposed to such musical monstrosities as “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas.”

The latter, by the way, is such an astounding yuletide abomination that I defy you to listen to it in its entirety without slashing your wrists or hurling your computer out the window—or both.

Now I was walking down Grand Street on Friday night in my usual semi-conscious state when I heard people—real live human beings—singing Christmas carols.

All Together Now

I was shocked. I didn’t think people did that kind of thing anymore, but there they were; a small group of people on the other side of the street in Santa hats singing “Joy to the World.”

They were such a welcomed sight. With all the anguish that’s been going on lately, you could almost forget it’s Christmas.

This town seems to be run on cynicism, so it was comforting to see people enjoying the holiday without putting air quotes around it. I just wish I had taken the time to thank them.

I got up the next morning to find the unseasonably warm weather had skipped town and turned my Saturday shopping trek into a seriously cold affair.

As I approached 75th Street and Fifth Avenue, I heard the sound of the Salvation Army band—two guys with horns, actually—playing carols.

I threw a buck into their bucket and a woman who was ringing a bell wished me a Merry Christmas.

“Stay warm,” she added.

Stay warm indeed. I would be home in no time, while these poor people would be out in the cold—literally—for God knows how long. Like the carolers from the previous night, these folks had really put me in the holiday mood and I thought it would be nice to return the favor.

It’s so cold, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could get them some hot chocolate?

And no sooner did I think this then I saw a Dunkin Donuts on the next block. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for most of my life and I never noticed it before. It was like the place had been instantly assembled just for my benefit.

I marched right in and ordered four hot chocolates and brought them out to the carolers.

They were very surprised and quite happy to get this little boost—but not as happy as I was. It cost me about 7 dollars in our mortal money but I felt as if I had been given a fortune.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mother Mary

And the sadness continues…

I walked into my local butcher shop yesterday and learned that Mary, the woman who had taken care of our father in the last years of his life, had died.

I knew that Mary was being treated for diabetes and that she had just recently moved into a neighborhood nursing home, but her passing still comes as a shock.

Mary was a Brooklyn original, a tough Irish dame, who came into our home after our father’s mental condition had begun to deteriorate and made order out of one big heaping pile of chaos.

She was a great cook—I can personally attest to this—as well as being efficient and extremely well organized.

But Mary was far more than an employee—she was a friend.

I remember when she first came over to our house. She was a smoker, but she promised she would always step outside before lighting up.

“I’m sure you will,” I said, “but we want you around for as long as possible.”

And we still do. I always felt such relief when Mary would call me at work each morning and say the words “I’m here.”

That told me I had nothing to worry about, that our father would get his meals, his medication, his rest, and some companionship.

Mary had her work cut off for her because, to be brutally honest, my father was a tough customer.

I had a confrontation with the old man one time that was so bad I had to call Mary to come over to the house before I throttled him. And she showed up just a short time later.

Mary had a salty mouth, but I loved how she always prefaced her comments with the phrase “excuse my language” before launching into an f-bomb assault upon some person or organization that had pissed her off.

She became a grandmother while she was working for us, and my sister and I had the pleasure of visiting her home to meet her family.

Every now and then I would see her in the neighborhood and I’d call her occasionally, but we gradually lost contact.

All I can do now is say thanks, Mary, thanks for being there when we needed you so badly. You took such good care of our father, now let the Father of us all take good care of you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Right Between the Eyes

Oh, fuck you.

Fuck your prayer vigils. Fuck your stupid candles and your teddy bears and your flowers and your ridiculous little angel pictures on Facebook.

Fuck all that and fuck you, too.

It’s the guns, you morons. It’s the goddamn guns. You know it. And if you don’t know it, please do the world a favor and kill yourself immediately.

No one will say a prayer or light a candle in your memory, I promise you.

Oh, what’s the use? We’ve got 20 children and six adults shot dead in Connecticut, slaughtered like animals by yet another gun-toting psycho and you can almost hear the NRA propaganda machine going into overdrive as they blather on about our rights and big government and black helicopters and the Bible and God knows what other kinds of unmitigated bullshit.

They’ll talk about freedom, and, gosh, there’s nothing that says “freedom” like a pile of bullet-riddled kids, is there?

Oh, and yes, the gun nuts will be sure to drag the Founding Fathers out of their graves yet again. Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, the whole crowd—they’re the Walking Dead of the gun rights movement.

It doesn’t matter that back in 1776 it took about 5 minutes to shoot and reload a musket, that you'd be better off using the thing as a club than as a firearm.

No, George and the rest of the boys are looking down from Buckshot Heaven right this very minute and just beaming with pride as we prepare fresh graves for our children.

You want to ban knives because, you know, people, like, stab other? And what about cars, huh? People die in them, too, don’t they?

We've heard these arguments. It’s the old magician’s trick of misdirection. The NRA has been doing it for years and Americans, being such a pathetically stupid lot, fall for it every time.

I am absolutely ashamed of this country.

These images of blood-soaked survivors and grieving relatives go all over the world for Christ’s sake. And these atrocities happen so often that I can’t keep them straight in my head.

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. What is it going to take? How many people have to die, how many more beautiful children have to be zipped up into body bags before the idiots in this country realize that they’re being sold a bill of goods?

Our politicians are spineless whores who dance like monkeys for the chump change that the NRA throws at them. And the ones that aren’t bought off are cowards.

We live in a nation where mentally ill people have obscenely easy access to horrific firepower and they are aided and abetted by a legally-sanctioned terrorist organization that seems bound and determined to make sure every psychopath gets a gun.

There is no need for people to own these heavy duty handguns. You want to go into the woods and kill animals, fine, get a hunting rifle. But these automatic weapons are made solely to kill people and they have to be put under strict control.

I’m sure all the keyboard killers out there are wet-dreaming themselves up into frenzy, bravely declaring from the safety of their basements how they’ve would taken that sumbitch out if they had been there. Hey, guys, it’s time to switch hands.

Maybe we should arm our children. Put a .9mm in their lunch boxes along with the PP&J sandwich. Wouldn’t that make us a strong and happy nation?

In late July I went to a service at St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan to pray for the victims of the mass shooting in Aurora, CO.

We rang a bell and recited the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most beautiful pleas to Almighty God that I’ve ever heard, a message that is so touching it brings tears to my eyes.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” it begins. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love…

Forgive me, Lord, but I’ve got an awful lot of hatred in my heart right now.

I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be a cursing, ranting lunatic incoherently spewing obscenities. I want to sow pardon where there is injury and hope where there is despair.

But don’t ask me to remain silent. Don’t tell me it’s too soon to talk about gun control. Please don’t light any more candles, lay down any more flowers or hand out any more teddy bears.

And please, no more vigils. You know what has to be done. You have to ban the guns.

Do it or shut the fuck up.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fraud Jump

There’s nothing more enjoyable than starting the day off with a call from your bank’s anti-fraud division.

I was on the computer early the other morning looking for ways to waste my time, like re-reading the naughty junk e-mail that bore a picture of Arthur the Aardvark.

Rob,” it said. “This is hard for me because I have never done anything like this…but I have a huge crush on you.

I’ve never gotten a love letter from a cartoon character before. Maybe Arthur has a sister.

I have never been able to tell you for reasons which you would quickly identify as obvious if you knew who this was.

I don’t think it’s that obvious. I don’t know anybody who tortures the English language like this.

This person has the very subtle username of “RobandME69,” which I suspect has some kind of sexual connotation. I wonder who it could possibly be?

To help you out with your guessing I made a few pictures and videos with "Rob" written on my body. They're kind of risque photos so I had to make a profile at….

Then the phone rang. I thought it might be a risque lady aardvark with “Rob” written on her body, but it turned out to be a woman from JPMorgan Chase.

She was calling to see if I had made four rapid-fire charges of $10 each in the dead of night to something called Enjaz Information Technology.

Well, actually, no, I hadn’t. Some sniveling aardvark that I could not quickly identify had a huge crush on my credit card and was going on a tear.

You Rang?

I must say I was very satisfied with Chase’s quick response to this situation, calling me as soon as they spotted the suspicious transactions.

Enjaz, according to an article in Ripoff Report, is the online processor required for obtaining a visa for Saudi Arabia. The article says Enjaz has “turned a previously workable system into an absolute nightmare.”

“This company is the worst kind of rip-off - a monopoly that is both abusive and incompetent,” the article said. “The government and people of Saudi Arabia should not let such an incompetent and widely hated company represent them to the world.”

No, and they shouldn’t let some loser rack up bogus charges on my plastic. I wonder how this happened and who could be responsible.

Arthur, what do you have to say for yourself?
I'm shy and this is the bravest thing I've probably ever done, but you need to do the rest. I want you to guess who I am and then approach me yourself.

You weren’t shy about using my credit card, were you, you conniving weasel?

You better hope I don’t guess who you are, because if I do, I’ll be approaching you with a very large stick.

Now there’s a chance that the person who sent the Arthur email has nothing to do with hacking my credit card and I could be aardvarking up the wrong tree.

No matter. The bank closed down my old credit card and God help anyone who tries to hack the new one. I'll write my name all over his body with a blowtorch.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

So who was that crazy bald guy dancing like a fruitcake at last night’s holiday party?

Oh, yeah, that’s right…it was me.

Yes, once again it’s that magical time of year when I promise to go to my company’s Christmas party for one drink and a free dinner and end up drunk and way too disorderly on the dance floor.

Thank God I had today off so hopefully my awful antics will be old news by the time I return to the office on Monday.

Yes, it really was that bad. For you see, I was…that guy.

You know that guy, right? The guy who drinks too much and acts like a loon, while people point and laugh at—not with---him? That was me last night.

I’m praying there’s no video of this fiasco, but the jails and psych wards are full of people who have prayed for the same thing.

And I wasn’t even planning to go to this year’s shindig at Chelsea Piers. All this relentless holiday cheer has me charging up my inner Scrooge and practicing my “bah, humbugs!”

This ongoing grief with my back has taken so much of the fun out of my life. If I can’t go to the gym and work out then I don’t think I have the right to party.

Plus I had the day off and I didn’t feel like schlepping into Manhattan, especially since I’d have to re-schlep into the city the next morning to start physical therapy. How it would look if I showed up hung over for my first session?

Well, I kept my mirror-gazing to a maximum minimum today but I didn’t like the little I saw. And as I recall bits and pieces of my beastly behavior at the office hoedown, I’m starting to think that maybe amnesia isn’t always a bad thing.

I finally decided the party would be worth the goddamn schlep, but I was determined to stick to my one-drink-and-go plan. I wanted to be bright and chipper for the next day’s well-intentioned torture.

However, that strategy lasted about as long as Frosty the Snowman in a microwave.

Somebody Stop Me...Please!

The evening started out fine. I saw a couple of my coworkers, ate a nice meal, and chatted with people from other divisions. My company is massive, with offices all over the world, so it’s fun talking to folks who could potentially be from anywhere on the planet.

I had a glass of wine with my meal. I had some more food, so naturally, this required another glass of wine. I had one oatmeal cookie for dessert and I needed something to wash that down, so I went for another wine. Tis the season...

The dance floor seemed so dead for so long that it looked like I’d be heading back to Brooklyn with an unshaken booty.

Then a few ladies stepped out to dance…then a few more people came on…I had another wine…more people came out to dance…then I finally got out there…and the rest I am trying to forget.

I whirled, I shuffled, I spun around, and wiggled it just a little bit too much. As the evening progressed, I regressed—back to Java Man.

Dancing is a miraculous act, a fantastic mixture of the sacred and profane. I can almost understand why nutzoid religious loons ban dancing because it makes people feel so happy, so liberated that they gleefully ignore nutziod religious loons.

I remember thinking that I had reached a place where either God or the Devil could take me at that very moment—and I didn’t care which one did the honors. I told you I was wasted, right?

“You have a lot of energy!” one of my dance partners said just before she left.

Yes—and it was all manic.

The memories get hazy after that, but not hazy enough. I feel so foolish today and I think it’s a five-hanky shame that we don’t have a Witness Relocation Program for mortified cubicle monkeys.

All right, it’s time to buck up. Everybody acts silly at this time of the year. People have other things on their minds besides my wicked ways. I’m going to dry out, sober up, and move on.

I’ll walk into the office on Monday morning with my head held high…and a false nose and glasses on my face.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Safe Bet

I’ve been doing my best to like “Vegas” but the new CBS show isn’t making it easy.

How could this thing have gone so wrong? Here we have a Sixties era crime show co-created by “Wiseguy” author Nicholas Pileggi that stars two of my favorite actors—Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid.

I was psyched when I heard about this program: Mobsters, casinos, cowboys, the Sixties—everything a growing boy needs. Well, maybe not...

Let me say upfront that show isn’t bad—not by any means. It’s just not that good. And this is even more disappointing given the talent behind it.

For starters, the whole mob-early-Vegas storyline is pretty worn out by now, thanks to the earlier show “Crime Story” and Martin Scorcese’s “Casino.”

Quaid portrays Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a former MP and western manly man who takes on Chicago gangster Vincent Savino (Chiklis) and his merry band of psychopaths.

The battle lines are painfully clear: good old boy versus big city hoodlum; Stetsons versus fedoras; cowboys versus casinos; Winchesters versus sawed-off shotguns. And that’s about as far as we go.

It’s frustrating to watch talented these actors trying to pump life into such cut-rate material. They’re actors, after all, not magicians. I’d love to see these Quaid and Chiklis working together on something substantial.

Bust Out

The show is based on the exploits of a real sheriff named Ralph Lamb, but an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out that “based on” is no guarantee of accuracy…or even reality.

Now I’ve never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to get tired of mob stories—and I’m a half-Italian from Brooklyn.

There just doesn’t seem to be much juice left in the genre of bulky guys in dark suits named Tony, Lefty, Vito, or whatever, who terrorize innocent civilians as they mangle the Queen’s English.

The Sixties time slot is getting a little overworked as well. “Mad Men” captured the cigarette-smoking, martini-swilled period very effectively and it seems to have inspired other shows, like “Pan Am,” and “The Playboy Club.” “Vegas” is showing up late for the retro party.

“Vegas” tries very hard to make us believe that we’re back in the days of hula hoops and fallout shelters, but I’m not feeling it.

I recall a scene in a diner where the camera lingers over a newspaper headline about Richard Nixon for so long it starts to feel like an elbow in the ribs—it’s the Sixties, get it? Huh? Huh? Yes, we honestly do. Now please move on.

Another show opens with the sheriff’s son rolling in the hay with a young lady and for some reason the scene is accompanied by Carl Perkins singing “Blue Suede Shoes.” There’s the elbow again, jabbing away, let us know that, yeah, it’s the Sixties. But it seems more like lazy writing.

The stories are little more than routine whodunits, more “Mannix” than “Mean Streets.” There are ongoing plotlines, but they show little promise.

The show has no guts, literally or otherwise. Sometimes you’ve got forget the odds, blow on the dice and left ‘em fly down the table. If you roll snake eyes, well, at least you had some fun before you cashed in your chips.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

And it comes out here…

One of my fondest memories of my mother was the way she used to sing.

It didn’t matter what she was doing—cooking, cleaning, or riding in the car—if the spirit moved her, my mother wouldn’t hesitate to break out into song.

Mom loved the old standards and if she had trouble remembering the words, she’d just fill in the gaps with a series of “la-la-la’s” until she got back on to lyrical terra firma.

Like most parents of that era, my mother had little use for rock and roll, declaring that back in her day “we had real music!”

I teased her about that once when she started singing “Hold Tight,” by the Andrew Sisters.

The song contains the immortal lines, “Hold tight, hold tight, a-hold tight, hold tight, fododo-de-yacka saki, want some sea food mama,” which my mama recited perfectly.

“And you complain about my music?” I said after this performance.

My aunt told us how my mother used to drive her crazy by singing “Meet the Sun Half Way” when they were growing up and Mom sang it to us as well.

Stop hiding behind the pillow whenever the dawn looks gray. Get up, get out and meet the sun half-way.”

One morning, God knows how many years ago, I came out into the kitchen for breakfast and Mom decided she’d regale us with her rendition of an old timey tune called “The Music Goes ’Round and ‘Round.”

Push the First Valve Down...

And it goes something like this:

I blow thru here, the music goes 'round and around, whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho
And it comes out here. I push the first valve down. The music goes down and around. Whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho. And it comes out here.

She sang at the top of her voice. No embarrassment, no inhibitions, Mom just went to town: “I push the middle valve down. The music goes down around below. Below, below, deedle-dee-ho-ho-ho. Listen to the jazz come out…

I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. As a teen-ager, I was mortified to see “the old lady” behaving like this. The funny thing is that now I really enjoy the old standards and the big band music that my mother loved so dearly.

This song was the musical interlude for a Columbia movie entitled, appropriately enough, "The Music Goes 'round" in 1936. While I love the song, the New York Times wasn’t impressed.

“At least it makes no pretense of being anything but a musical interlude,” their critic wrote, “dragged in by the scruff of its neck to illustrate the devastating effect upon the public of some anonymous young busybody's question about the workings of a three-valve sax horn.”

Ouch! Well, I’m sure this guy would’ve changed his tune if he had heard my mother sing it.

Given her love of singing, it seems especially cruel that my mother lost her voice as lung disease ravaged her body. There were times when she couldn’t even speak, let alone sing. I’d give anything to hear her sing one more time.

I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but I believe now that my mother was teaching us a very important life lesson with her singing. She was encouraging us to express ourselves, to enjoy life, and not be self-conscious.

Many artists have recorded “The Music Goes ’Round and ’Round” over the years, including Louis Prima, Danny Kaye, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Betty Boop, but my favorite version—next to Mom’s, of course--is by Tommy Dorsey, which became a hit in 1936.

A few years ago I treated myself to a CD of big band numbers that included the Dorsey recording. Whenever I play that song, my heart goes round and round, my mind goes back to that fabulous morning in our kitchen, and I hold tight.

Friday, November 23, 2012

‘Send Us Your Horror Stories’

I’m trying to remember when the Black Friday “door-buster” phenomenon started.

My memory might be fuzzy, but I swear there was a time in America when we didn’t have these savage displays of greed.

Yes, there were Black Friday sales, but people behaved themselves back then--as opposed to today where psychotic shoppers camp out all night so they can storm shopping malls in a retail rendition of “The Hunger Games.”

The news footage coming out of shopping malls is absolutely sickening. These images go all over the world and I can only wonder what people in other countries are saying about us.

There was a series of violent incidents today at stores across American as crazed consumers fought, pulled guns, and ran people over with their cars in their zeal to nail a bargain and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. People who call themselves Christians are acting an awful lot like the ancient Romans.

It has gotten so bad that The Huffington Post is asking readers to “Send Us Your Horror Stories."

But there’s no point in complaining. People act like animals; everyone shakes their heads in dismay, and then the next year it happens all over again.

A young man was trampled to death at a door buster sale at a Wal-Mart on Long Island a few years ago and that still wasn’t enough to stop the madness. Don't the stores have some responsibility in all this?

At least this year there were demonstrators outside some of these big chain stores protesting unfair labor practices.

Horror stories abound. Two people died at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. One was a clown who collapsed while performing for the crowd. His wife, who was also dressed as a clown, was nearby. The other was a civilian NYPD employee who was towing a car along the parade route.

Police charged a man in the murder of three shopkeepers in Brooklyn, including Mohamed Gebeli, who owned a store in Bay Ridge. I’ve shopped in his place over the years and I always thought he was a nice man.

I still can’t believe this happened. The fact that I actually know someone who was murdered makes my skin crawl.

Police labeled the suspect a serial killer who gunned down his victims with a sawed-off .22 –caliber rifle. The suspect is an independent apparel salesman and the cops aren’t saying why he did this, but they’ve ruled out robbery as a motive.

All these horror stories, all these reminders that life is fragile and fleeting. They are constant warnings that we should focus on what is important in our lives and forget all the petty crap because you never know when your time will come.

People can learn something from these incidents, but they’re probably too busy stomping over each other to get that widescreen TV. And the horror stories will keep on coming.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Vision Thing

I walked down 75th Street this morning and saw a blind man heading toward me swinging his cane.

Had it been any other time, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to him, other than to stay out of his way and offer him help if he needed it.

But today I had an appointment with an eye doctor and vision—or the potential loss of it—was preying on my mind.

I’ve been very lucky. At 55 years old, I’m still not wearing glasses. I’ll admit I do a good deal of squinting and I view print in three stages: small, very small, and hell, no.

I knew I’d have to give in at some point and get glasses, but I was hoping to put it off until…forever.

But last week I started seeing bright flashes of light in the corner of my eye whenever I turned my head quickly. I tried to ignore them but it was scary having these lightning bolts going off around my head.

Then two days ago the floaters showed up and refused to leave. They’re like hairs or an eyelash only you can’t wipe them away.

I raced to the Internet in a fit of hyper-hypochondria and found several possible explanations for my symptoms, including a detached retina and a warning sign for a stroke.

All of the descriptions ended with the same advice: go to an eye doctor immediately. So on the day before Thanksgiving, I was on my way to the ophthalmologist.

The eyeball grief would’ve been enough own it’s own, but I’ve also been having problems with chronic fatigue and, of course, my aching back.

I saw the back specialist yesterday and he said that I’m not responding to treatment fast enough. He set up an appointment for me with the clinic’s pain management expert, where we will discuss the possibility of yours truly getting steroid injections.

Jeepers Creepers

And, of course, as I walked along Park Row yesterday, I couldn’t help but suddenly notice all the people using canes and walkers. When it comes to misery, my vision is 20/20.

I was feeling so depressed, so flipping old last night. Wallowing neck-deep in self-pity, I didn’t want anything to do with Thanksgiving because I wasn’t feeling very thankful at all, thank you very much. Can’t work out, can barely read or watch TV, what the hell is left for me?

“I feel like an old car,” I whined to one of my co-workers.

But then I had an eye opening experience. Before I left my home, I received phone calls from both my sister and my auntie wishing me well and requesting that I call them as soon as I got out of the doctor’s office.

The ophthalmologist had me sit in a chair and went to work on me with equipment straight out of Flash Gordon. After putting drops in my eyes, he had me reading eye charts and rolling my eyeballs up, down, back, and around.

Apparently I don’t have a detached retina and the floaters are a result of age—just like my back trouble. My brain will eventually learn to ignore the floaters. The back trouble is another matter...

And better yet, my doctor doesn’t think I need glasses. Talk about an early Christmas present. I skipped out of his office, promising to come back for a check-up in four weeks.

The outside world was blurry and glowing thanks to the eye drops, but I managed to call my sister and auntie to tell them the good news.

They sounded as relieved as I was and I realized that I had been blind to my good fortune.

I had a lot to be thankful for and it had nothing to do with turkey, stuffing, or endless helpings of pumpkin pie. I have people who love me, who care about me, and that was enough to bring tears to these tired, old eyes of mine.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Street Scene

The first thing I heard was the screaming.

I was walking down Fulton Street this morning and as I prepared to cross Broadway and go into my office building, I heard a shriek that shook me right out of my Monday morning stupor.

“Let go!”

I looked to my right and there were two cops, one male, one female, wrestling with an African-American woman.

She was sitting on the ground right outside the subway entrance and the cops were trying to pull her to her feet, but she wasn’t cooperating at all.

I never did get a look at her face, so I can’t say if she was young or old, but she seemed to have a lot of energy as she fought with the two police officers.

As the three of them struggled, the woman screamed louder. Her wig tumbled off her head at one point and lay on the ground like roadkill. The male cop pulled out a cannister of mace and squirted it into the woman’s face. She turned away, but kept on fighting.

It was an ugly, bizarre scene to witness on this chilly morning and naturally I kept watching. When the combatants moved out of my line of vision, I crossed Broadway to get a better view.

The morning rush hour crowd spilt into the gawkers who openly watched the proceedings and the selectively sightless who acted as if they didn’t see any of the mayhem spilling out over the pavement right next to them.

“Stop resisting!” the female cop shouted. “Stop resisting!”

It did no good—those words rarely do. The woman kept on fighting. The cops kneeled down on her, snapped the handcuffs on one of her wrists, and fought to get the other.

People started pulling out their smartphones to record the drama and I felt compelled to sneer at them for being so crass. They were groundlings delighting in someone else’s misery, while I, on the other hand, was a keen observer of the human condition.

But the truth is I probably would have done the same thing if I could figure out how to activate the video camera in my phone.

I finally turned and walked into my office. The show, at least for me, was over, and there was nothing more to see.

One of my co-workers arrived a short time later and told me she had seen the woman sitting in the back of an ambulance. I hope somebody retrieved her wig.

I wonder what had happened to her, what went so wrong in her life that she ended up rolling on the freezing concrete with two cops. I wonder how far any of us is from being in her place. A couple of bad breaks, like losing your job or getting sick, and any one of us might end up being hauled down to the psych ward.

I'd like to think that this woman will be okay, that some friend or relative will help her find food and shelter. Thats what I'd like to think, but I have my doubts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bright, Shining, Gentle

Clarence the angel showed up a little early this year, but he certainly earned his wings.

The Clarence in question was a customer service representative from my company’s human resources department and while he seemed nothing like the heavenly helpmate from “It’s A Wonderful Life,” he did a very good impersonation.

Yes, you’re probably fed up with any references to Frank Capra’s holiday classic, seeing how often it’s shown on TV.

But the holiday season is getting underway and the guy’s name really was Clarence, so I think the comparison is justified.

And furthermore—I love that word--the name Clarence means “bright, shining or gentle,” according to the dictionary, and this fellow was all three.

I “met” Clarence in the middle of a nervous breakdown when I thought I had missed the annual enrollment deadline for my company’s health care plan.

If you miss the deadline, you’re not covered for the following year and that’s why I make a point of getting it done in time--even though my head starts swimming whenever I read about the different types of plans.

However, this year I was thrown off because of my back trouble and by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy which knocked everyone’s plans out of whack.

The deadline for enrollment was extended, but upon coming into the office this week, I was led to believe that the final date had passed and that I was now traveling up a certain creek without a paddle.

And then I did what I do best in these situations: I freaked out.

First I called my insurance company and after uselessly shouting at the robo-operator, I got through to an alleged human who was even less helpful than the annoying automaton.

Yep, this person told me, it looks like you’re not covered. Just the thing a hypochondriac wants to hear.

She gave me the number of our human resources helpline and I pounded out the number so hard I nearly gave my phone a concussion. And that’s when I met Clarence.

Ring the Bells

He sounded young and quite professional as he guided through the enrollment process. Panic is infectious, but so is confidence and I started to relax as Clarence described the various plans the company has to offer and compared them with my current coverage.

I felt so good that when Clarence asked me if I was still a “non-tobacco user” I dropped the old line, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls who do.”

“I never heard that one,” Clarence said with a laugh.

And then we were finished. I was officially covered, Clarence had saved me and I didn’t even have to jump off a bridge. I was so relieved that I let out a sigh that would’ve put a steam engine to shame.

“Wow,” Clarence said. “I heard that.”

I thanked Clarence profusely and asked for his full name. This violates company policy, but he did give me an ID number, which is ironic given how humanely he treated me.

I promised myself I would call his supervisor and tell him what a good job Clarence had done.

But as I settled into work I realized that if I didn’t take care of it immediately, I’d never do it.

Two—or is three?—years ago I vowed to write a letter to Chase commending one of their employees who had helped me out when their City Hall-area branch was particularly crowded. Only I never did.

Like many people, I am quick to complain, but far too slow to compliment. I decided that has to change. I have been spreading a lot of vitriol over the last week or so after my cable service went out. It was time to share the love.

I immediately called HR back, got hold of an operator who put me in touch with the division supervisor and I told him of Clarence’s bright and shining deeds. The supervisor sounded grateful and a little bit surprised that someone was actually calling to say something nice.

I hung up the phone feeling like a decent human instead of a screeching complainer. I had averted disaster, given credit where it was due, and met some nice people in the process. It really is a wonderful life.

Atta boy, Clarence…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walk in Beauty

We always had plenty of presents around our Christmas tree each year and every now and then one of them would go unopened.

Usually the package had been pushed so far under the tree that it escaped our notice for a day or two. But it would eventually be discovered and if the gift happened to have your name on it, well, that really made the season bright.

I had a similar experience recently, although it had nothing to do with Christmas or wrapping paper. No, this particular present was a Japanese film called “Still Walking” that I had recorded a year or more ago and never watched--until now.

Night after night I would see the title listed on my DVR screen. I’d read the synopsis about a young man dealing with his aging parents and I always found something else to watch. I think the only reason I recorded it was because the film had a high rating from the Sundance Channel.

I had the film for so long that I seriously considered deleting the thing without viewing it. I’m trying to clear out the clutter in my apartment, my head, and, yes, my TV and this movie seemed like a prime candidate for extinction.

At least twice I had my thumb on the delete button, ready to send this movie off to digital oblivion.

C’mon, you’re never going to watch it, I told myself. Just get rid of the damn thing.

I might have actually zapped this movie sight unseen if it weren’t for Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out my TV service—except for the DVR.

My bad back has seriously curtailed my social life, so all those unwatched movies and TV shows I had recorded suddenly became a prime source of entertainment. And “Still Walking” turned out to be a beautiful gift waiting to be unwrapped.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoy a film so much. Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s deceptively simple story focuses on a family coming together for a yearly visit marking the anniversary of the death of the oldest son, who drowned 15 years earlier while saving a child.

For Mature Audiences

Be warned. This film contains no CGI special effects, gratuitous sex scenes, mindless violence, costumed superheroes, or 3D explosions. I’m afraid that all “Still Walking” has to offer is fine writing, skilled acting, and solid directing. Hard to believe, no?

While the characters go through a great deal of emotional turmoil, there are none of the melodramatic screaming matches so painfully prevalent in American films.

The action here surges beneath the surface as the characters struggle with their pain, their guilt, and their inability to communicate with each other.

The main character, Ryo, is the second oldest son, living in the shadow of his older sibling’s memory. His father, a retired doctor, makes no attempt to disguise his profound disappointment in his son’s failure to follow in the old man’s footsteps.

Ryo’s mother carries the weight of her son’s loss quietly but the pain is unmistakable. In one heart-rendering scene, she becomes convinced that a wayward butterfly flitting around the house is actually her reincarnated child.

In another scene, the rescued child shows up to pay his respects to his savior’s family. He is now a grown man—overweight, sweaty, clumsy and devoid of any kind of direction in life.

When he stumbles out of the house after groveling before the dead man’s photo, Ryo’s father bitterly complains “my son died for that?”

The generation gap is never closed, as Ryo realizes that “I’ve always been a little too late,” but there is a hopeful ending. Luckily we’re spared the crocodile-tearful “I love you, man!” schtick that pollutes so many films nowadays.

It took a catastrophe for me to finally view this film and I am so glad I listened to my inner packrat. I backed off from the delete button, held on to the clutter, and finally opened my present.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Non-Apology Tour

I guess this counts as significant...

I came home tonight from a long, hard commute to find that my cable, TV, and internet service had been restored.

After all the ranting, cursing, angry phone calls and emails, I walked into my home office and saw the row of green lights glowing on my modem.

That little black box had been dark for so long that I felt like singing "When the Lights Go On Again" at the top of my lungs--only I didn't know the words.

I was told that the work crew wouldn't be in my neighborhood until Monday, but that turned out to be wrong--just like everything else the Time Wiener Cabal told me.

So I'm finally back on my own computer. I am so grateful that my sister had very kindly allowed me to hook up my company laptop to her modem so I wouldn't have to travel to Manhattan.

That worked fine for two days, but then last night her modem died. I was convinced that it was my fault, but the cable company said her modem was old and on the way out. Still, it meant going into the office today when I would have much preferred working from home for one more day.

I am glad I went in, though. It was good to see my co-workers after all this time--has it been two weeks?--and it's easier to do my job in the office. I feel so cut off from everything when I work from home. It would be different if I had my own business, but as long as I'm working for a company, I'd prefer to actually work at the company.

I suppose this is the part where I say I'm sorry for all the nasty things I said about the people at Time Wiener, how I really didn't mean to call them parasites, thieves, clowns and losers.

What, Me Sorry?

I guess I'm supposed to apologize for shouting and swearing at total strangers on the other end of the telephone.

Well, maybe I'm supposed to...but I'm not.

When you charge money for a service, you are supposed to deliver that service. If you fail in that responsibility, then you are cheating your customers. It's as simple as that. If you cheat people, don't expect them to love you.

What I am really sorry about is how I let this situation eat away at me. It was on my mind all the time. The bad back didn't help matters any. Not only am I forced to stick around the house, but I couldn't even distract myself by watching TV or surfing the internet.

I had a lousy bus ride home tonight because the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was still being flushed out. All I could think of during this tiresome trip was walking into my apartment to a blank TV screen, a dead telephone, and a lifeless computer.

I got so angry I actually thought about going to Time Wiener's headquarters on Monday morning and demanding to see the CEO. I fantasized about causing a scene, complete with a security guard scuffle and a Category Four obscenity barrage.

Obviously I'm glad it never came to that, but I'm disappointed that I was even thinking that way. Yes, this was a rotten situation, but pointless rage does nothing but shorten your lifespan. And there may not be cable in the afterlife.

My anger seems so petty now, given how other people suffered--and continue to suffer--from the impact of Hurricane Sandy. I thank God I and my loved ones were spared and my heart goes out to these poor people who lost so much.

Ironically, one of the things I learned from not having TV or the internet was that I spend entirely too much time watching TV and surfing the internet. That has to change. I call myself a writer. Well, writers write.

Now I can turned my attention to my fiction and--hopefully--getting my health back. Now that would really be significant...

'Dear Parasite'

Calling somebody “a two-bit grifter” probably isn’t the best way to express yourself, but I was pretty annoyed at the time.

I was unloading my rage into an email to Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt, who collected $8.9 million last year but who still can’t get my phone, internet, and TV service working 11 full days after Hurricane Sandy.

I entitled my missive “Dear Parasite,” so there was no way he could mistake it for a fan letter.

In a recent third-quarter phone call, Britt was quoted as saying “We’re still evaluating the loss and the extent of insurance coverage, but we don’t expect the amount to be very significant.”

Not very significant? Maybe not for you, Glennie Boy, but you should try talking to people who have real jobs. You’d be amazed.

I am so fed up with these rock star millionaires who can buy their way into presidential elections or clog up various media platforms with their comings and goings but never seem to do an honest day’s work.

This country’s priorities are severely fouled up if someone like Britt can get so much money and still run such a lousy operation. Is this man saving lives? Is he working on a cure for cancer? No, he isn’t. So why the hell is he being paid so much goddamn money?

I swear Mafia dons must look at these modern day robber barons and scratch their heads in disbelief. Hey, Tony, how come we never thought of this?

At least Jesse James had the decency to wear a mask when he robbed people.

Not everyone with a huge bank account is the next Thomas Edison. There is a vast difference between being crafty and being creative. And greed really isn’t good; it’s gross.

I called Time Warner—yet again—and I got the same lovely lady I spoke with the other day. The poor woman has her own woes, having lost the electricity at her home, but she still patiently listened to me rant.

“He’s a thief!” I shrieked into my cell phone, referring to Britt. “He’s a goddamn thief!”

I still believe this, but it was wrong of me to take it out on this woman. I apologized to her, but the whole situation makes me so mad.

The money bags do this deliberately—they send the poor low wage schmucks out to deal with the angry customers in the same way a general sends the lowly privates out onto the battlefield.

Your country needs you, son, and if you get your head blown off, well, we’ve got this nice shiny medal and a lovely flag-draped coffin just for you….

This woman tried to calm me down by saying “we have to work together,” but I honestly don’t know what that means.

Do I have to put on overalls and go fix the cables myself? At this point I’m ready to pick up a wrench and give it a try. I can’t do any worse than the so-called experts.

I let Mr. Britt know that I have no intention whatsoever of paying my cable bill for November or December. This kind of abuse is inexcusable; I don’t care if a goddamn volcano erupted.

I signed off with the line “write back if you’re man enough,” which is sophomoric, but I’m sure Mr. Britt will get over it. For the money he makes he can afford to rent out a battalion of shrinks to massage his poor little ego.

The repair crew is supposed to be in my neighborhood on Monday and, God willing, I’ll have my service back.

If anything significant happens, I'll let you know...

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Glenn and Me

Glenn Britt made $8.9 million as the chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, but that's no resaon why he shouldn't take my phone calls.

I called Mr. Britt directly today.

I was fed up with dealing with the minimum wage androids on the company help line, the ones who seem incabable of telling why my cable, internet, and TV service has been out for the last 9 freaking days or when it might come back on.

I had to learn about Barack Obama's victory over the radio this morning because I have been denied the most basic forms of modern communication. Don't get me wrong, I love the radio, but there are some things you want to see.

It felt strange dialing Time Warner's number and, to be honest, I almost hung up. He's a big executive, he doesn't have time for the likes of me. But I held my ground.

No, goddamnit, I thought, if Glenn Britt wants to pull down all that money to do whatever the hell he does, than he can bloody well listen to his customers complaints. If my dry cleaner can do it, so can he.

This isn't Mitt Romney's America. Overpaid office boys are not some form of royalty. Most of them are clueless parasites who vote themselves raises and answer to no one.

And as far as building their businesses or making their own money, I suspect a lot of these people just waited around for daddy to die before collecting their checks. And then they buy off politicians to write laws friendly to their businesses. So please spare me the endless gushing. It's embarassing.

I got the automated answering system and I very carefully spelled out Britt's name. I felt sure I would be cut off any second or there would be some kind of internal security system that would thwart calls to the big guy's office.

But then I heard a few rings followed by a woman's voice saying, "Mr. Britt's office."

"Is he there?" I asked.

"Who's calling please?"

"My name is Rob Lenihan and I'm one his customers. And I haven't had any service for nine days!"

Oh, you should have heard the tension in this woman's voice. It was like "A customer Oh, no!"

She got so nervous I almost felt sorry for her. I hate people who pick on the hired help and I tried to calm down. I've been on the receiving end of such blind rage and I didn't like it, so I always try to keep my temper in these situations.

And to be honest, this woman did take my contact information and promised to have someone call me. I thanked her and a few hours later someone did call me.

And this woman said that the work crew wouldn't be coming out my way until November 12. I'm assuming that is November 12 of this year, but I'm not sure now.

I can't believe this is happening. I see how much I rely on the internet and I'm learning that I waste a lot of time web-surfing, but this is completely unacceptable. Except, of course, I have to accept it.

This second woman--the name escapes me--apologized profusely and said she'd try to get the crew out my way sooner. She also mentioned that she herself was living without electricity, but I was too steamed to pay much attention and I do regret that oversight.

I'm going to see if I can find another cable provider, but I have my doubts. The only other company in the area only offers dish television service and I've heard less than stellar things about the reception. But I may knuckle under because I can't stand the current situation.

So I had a problem and I went right to the top. I know my dad would have been proud of me.

I don't think I got much for my efforts, but I'm glad I let these people know that they work for me and not the other way around.

The priorities in this country have gotten screwed up and they need to be corrected--one phone call at a time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

'More Wind Than We Deserve'

So it's Day Eight and I still don't have an internet, telephone, or television connection.

This is also Election Day, and I did my civic duty, but at this rate I'll have to get the results by carrier pigeon.

I am getting so fed up with this. If I lived in the backwoods of Kentucky, I would understand that the hook-ups would be touch and go.

But I don't. I live in New York Freaking City, the center of it all, and yet I'm forced to borrow my sister's computer to blog and tape my cellphone to my head to talk to people.

I've been away from the web for so long I feel like Amelia Earhart.

Yes, I understand other people have it worse. Yes, I should probably be ashamed of myself for complaining. But the combination of the chronic fatigue, bad back, and inability to communicate with the outside world is making me nuttier than usual.

I get the feeling that if I were reduced to just a head in a fish tank, someone would knock on the glass and say, "you know there are people worse off than you." Thanks a lot, but that's not very comforting right now,

Time Warner charges and arm and a leg for its "services" and yet now, when something actually happens, they are completely ineffectual. I have called them repeatedly, only to be told that "we're working on it." What does this work consist of--wishful thinking and rubbing two sticks together?

And what's more annoying is that my neighbors and I all lost service early last Monday--hours before Hurrican Sandy actually arrived. Did the system die of fright?

I need the internet so I can work from home--duh! My back's a little better, but I'm concerned about aggravating the condition. If I can just get back online, I'd be a hell of a lot happier.

Yes, I'm kind of down right now. Dealing with a lot of hostility and negavity-I'm essentially in a "what next?" mode, as in "what next can go wrong?" But it's never a good idea to ask that question because the answer could blow your mind--literally.

The day before Sandy hit a meterologist warned that we would be battered by "more wind than we deserve" and he called that one right, that's for damn sure.

Now that I've ranted a bit, let me say that my thoughs and prayers are with people who lost loved ones in this terrible storm and to those who lost their homes.

I can't even imagine what that is like and I truly thankful that I got through this thing in fairly good shape.

Once again, I promise to get back to regular blogging as soon as this business is sorted out. And thanks for all your concern.

See you soon..

Friday, November 02, 2012

Storm Update

Hey, blog buddies:

I'm writing to you from an undisclosed location (my sister's apartment) because the degenerate goofballs at Time Warner still can't get my internet connection going. Is this the 21st Century or what?

I hope all of you are safe and well. I did get my MRI done on Wednesday, but since my specialist is located in lower Manhattan, and thus out of power, I don't know what the next step will be.

I'll be posting and catching up on your blogs as soon as I can. I thank you all for your concern and please do me a favor and take care of yourselves!

See you soon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Revenge of Frankenstorm

It’s big, it’s nasty, and it’s heading this way.

That may sound like a description of the nun that used to monitor my grammar school cafeteria, but I’m actually referring to Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm,” which is currently churning its way up the East Coast and heading straight for my house.

And just in time for Halloween…

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this morning ordered the suspension of all subway and bus service, the schools are being shut down, and residents of low lying areas are being told to pack up their troubles in their old kit bags and get the hell out of Sandy’s way.

There’s talk of heavy winds, sheets of rain, and a possible guest appearance by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as all Hell literally breaks loose in my hometown.

Okay, I may be feeling a little paranoid, but I think I’m entitled. I’m still in a lot of pain from chronic back trouble and I’m supposed to get both an MRI and my flu shot tomorrow—the very day that this meteorological monstrosity is set to hit New York.

The last time we were slated for annihilation was August 2011, which was the first time my back went out. I wonder if the two are related.

Maybe my bulging disc is some kind of early warning system. Maybe we should stock up batteries and canned beans every time I start gimping around the living room.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Maybe every time my back goes out, it starts a chain reaction that rocks Mother Nature right down to her undies and she reacts by drop kicking the solar system. It really is all about me, isn’t it?

Last year’s dire predictions turned out to be a bust, at least for New York City, and I’m really hoping we have a repeat non-performance this time out, but I have my doubts. Frankenstorm appears to be all too real.

There's the Rub

Luckily I had time to squeeze in a therapeutic massage before the world ends.

The masseuse rubbed, stretched, and pulled my aching anatomy around like a giant wishbone. It was a very strange feeling, being worked on for a solid hour, but I think it’ll be good for me in the long run. That is assuming my home won’t be washed away in a weather event straight out of the Book of Revelations.

I don’t suppose we could get a break from the mayhem and the misery, could we? We’ve got a presidential election coming up, violence and insanity all over the globe; I guess it’s too much to ask for blue skies and sunshine.

The business with my back is making me loonier and loonier. I can feel my body and my mind decaying and the pep talks I’ve been giving myself haven’t helped much.

Yesterday morning I managed to bang my head into the freezer door while cleaning out my refrigerator and I let out a roar that would have terrified the MGM lion.

A short time later I put on the glass teakettle to boil some water and for reasons known only to God my kettle decided not to whistle. It didn’t even hum.

No, instead the plastic cap just melted—dissolved into some foul-smelling liquid at the bottom of the kettle. I didn’t suspect a thing until the hideous stench assailed my nostrils and by that time it was much too late.

I put the kettle in the sink, turned on the water, and the thing cracked to pieces…sort of like my spine. That kettle had been in the family for years, absorbed all kinds of abuse, and I managed to destroy it. I’m the son of Frankenstorm.

Right now the sky is a creepy shade of gray and it feels like the entire ecosystem is holding its breath in anticipation of all kinds of doom. I’ll have to reschedule the MRI, which means a delay in knowing what’s wrong with me and how to treat it.

Pain has become such a part of my life that I’m not sure if I can live without it. But I want to give it a try.

Be gone, Frankenstorm, be gone. And take my back pain with you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day Pass

I left my house for the first time in a week today and found out that I need more tests.

I had to take car service into Manhattan because my aching back can’t handle riding the subway. Hell, I can’t even handle the subway stairs.

It was so strange being in the real world after my week-long house arrest. We rode by my office, by the street where my gym was located and I kept wondering why I wasn’t out there with the rest of the working stiffs, making the walk from my health club to my office building on Broadway.

People looking at me might have thought I was some big shot riding in the back of this car while the peons did the mass transit routine. If they only knew…

My doctor tells me that I am not responding to the 7-day steroid bomb treatment that he prescribed for me, so I have to get another MRI.

I had one of these tests last year and it was decidedly unpleasant. You’re basically sandwiched within this monstrous machine that takes photos of your innards. It felt like it was never going to end.

“I worried I’m going to be a cripple,” I blurted. “Am I going to wind up in a wheel chair?”

My doctor didn’t give me the vigorous dismissal I was looking for; the old “of-course-you-won’t” routine I so desperately wanted to hear. And, truthfully, that’s not his job. He’s a doctor, not a fortuneteller.

“Do you need a cane or a walker?”

A walker? Oh, come on. Yes, it hurts like hell every time I take a step, yes, I’m stomping around like Long John Silver on three-day rum bender, but, Christ, I don’t need no stinking walker….yet.

Both my parents had to use walkers in their final years, so the very mention of this piece of equipment scares the hell out of me.

Avast there, Matey!

My doctor said I should be prepared to discuss the possibility of such treatments as cortisone shots and surgery. Neither appeals to me, but my current state isn’t sustainable either.

It’s weird being out on the street and lurching from streetlight to park bench, while I fume and curse beneath my breath. Jesus, I’m starting to sound like a pirate.

I glare at the people around me, walking by as if everything is perfectly normal. Don’t they see how I’m suffering? Can’t they see how much trouble I have walking?

But then I realize that I’ve seen people in a similar or worse condition countless times and what did I do? I kept walking, of course, and pretended everything was perfectly normal.

The world is a hostile place when you’re not in top condition. A few years ago, brain dead teajahdist Ron Paul bitched that the Americans With Disabilities Act was unfair to business owners—yes, business owners—because it forces them to put in pesky things like elevators and ramps for people in wheelchairs.

Speaking as someone who now has a great deal of trouble walking, I want to know what kind of piece of excrement would have to be forced to make these accommodations?

Wouldn’t a decent business owner want all of his employees to be able to get around with relative ease? When did looking out for each other become such a terrible blow to capitalism?

I’ve been taking Oxycontin, Rush Limbaugh’s drug of choice, but I’m getting mine legally. This is about the only thing I have in common with that rightwing blowhard and I aim to quit as soon as I can.

I declined my doctor’s office to get a stronger dose of painkiller. What’s a good Catholic boy to do without pain?

I’ve been routinely deleting these various event emails I’ve been receiving. What’s the point? I know I won’t be able to go anywhere. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to be struck with crippling pain miles from my home.

So my exile continues and I don’t even need an ankle bracelet. I’m scheduled to go to a massage therapist on Saturday and I’m hoping I make some progress. And I hope it lasts.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


It’s been a week since my back trouble starting kicking up again, but I feel like I’ve aged 20 years.

I can barely walk, it kills me to sit at a chair for any length of time, and the only way I can get relief from the hideous pain that radiates up my shin is to stretch out flat on the floor like a corpse in a murder movie.

I’m a prisoner in my own home.

The simplest movements have become a struggle. Getting out of bed or walking to the kitchen takes forever, as I have to lean against the wall every few steps and let the pain subside.

Walking down from my third floor apartment to get the paper is nothing short of torture and I have to sit down on the steps several times on the way back up because it hurts so goddamn much.

My sister has climbed another notch higher toward sainthood by bringing me food and thus keeping me from starving.

I had to take car service into Manhattan on Wednesday to see my back specialist and as I sat there in waiting room, racked with pain, worrying about my health, my job, and my future, I had this overpowering urge to call my mother.

I was actually reaching for my cell phone, even though she’s been gone for more than 10 years now. That’s what I always did when I was frightened or upset—I called Mom.

I would’ve given anything to hear her voice for a few seconds, so I could tell her my problems and listen as she says that everything will be okay.

The doctor gave me some meds and told me to come back this week. I have one more day left on the prescription and to be honest, I haven’t seen much of an improvement.

Calling on the Hotline

I went by the office long enough to pick up my laptop and frighten my co-workers with my unsteady walk. I’m going to try working from home and see how that works out.

I went through this misery last year, but then the period of acute pain only lasted a few days. I only missed one day of work and, after meds and physical therapy, I was back to normal in eight weeks. It’s much worse this time and that’s making me nervous.

Every time I start to feel a little bit better, the pain surges through my leg again, reminding me that this ain’t over yet.

I look at my gym gear, which I haven’t touched in over a month, and it feels like I’ve crossed some kind of line here, that I’m never going to be the same. I know that age creeps up on us all, but I’m not ready to shoot straight into senior citizenry just yet.

I’m trying to learn something from this experience, to get something more than just grief out of this torture.

I think of all the times when I decided to sit at home on my rear end and watch TV or screw around on the Internet when I should have been out amongst humanity. If I ever get out of this mess, I’m going to change that habit.

I hope my specialist will have some good news for me. If the meds don’t work then my other options include cortisone shots or---God, help me—surgery, which I’m doing my best to avoid.

I’ll do what the doctor tells me to do and hopefully get back to normal. And I’m going to keep my cell phone handy just in case I have the urge to make a special call.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Attention, everybody,” the elderly Hispanic man announced to the rest of us riding the R train. “Jesus Christ is coming back! You must repent!

This fellow, who was standing a few feet away from me one night last week, proceeded to helpfully repeat his message in Spanish.

The spiel was irritating in any language, since I was trying to read during my ride home and I don’t particularly enjoy being sermonized by a total stranger.

But given the way I was feeling at the moment, End Times couldn’t get here soon enough.

I’ve been sick for nearly four weeks now after coming down with a particularly nasty bout of chronic fatigue.

This has been a problem for me ever since I contracted mononucleosis back in the Eighties, though it hasn’t been this bad in a while. My stomach is queasy, my head feels like it's wrapped in a wad of gauze and just walking down to the corner is exhausting.

It is also killing me emotionally, since I can’t socialize, exercise, or do any of the other things I enjoy.

The situation makes me angry and depressed, especially when I see how other people abuse themselves--overeating, boozing, getting high or just sitting on their asses all day long--without so much as getting the sniffles. I'm trying to help myself here. What is the problem?

And, as if that weren’t enough, my right leg has started to ache something fierce, which probably means my back trouble has returned.

Voodoo, anyone?

“Jesus Christ is coming,” the subway prophet repeated. “You must repent.”

“No, He isn’t,” a young straphanger snorted. “He isn’t coming.”

Oh, great. Now we’re going to have some sectarian violence for the evening commute. I sure hope Jesus packed his Metrocard.

Now the first man may have been crazy, but this second guy was just a dope. What’s the point of mocking an old man who was so clearly deranged? He’s certainly not going to lose his religion just because you give him some lip.

I was almost hoping that the Good Lord really would stage a comeback on this train just to smite this loser upside the head.

And what's really annoying is that I wasn’t even supposed to be on the goddamn subway in the first place.

I’ve been taking the express bus home every night lately because I feel like crap. It’s more expensive, but it’s quicker, much more comfortable, and almost entirely loon-free.

Next Stop, Lake of Fire

Maybe some people talk a little too loudly on their cellphones, but nobody ever tried holding a revival meeting in the aisle. And if anybody does, the rest of us will make him walk the plank.

On this particular night, though, I had stayed in Manhattan for a little while longer to get an acupuncture treatment.

This session helped a little bit, but it also meant that I’d be traveling right in the heart of rush hour when the express buses were packed to the gills. Refusing to pay all that money to stand up, I opted for the subway instead. And walked right into the middle of a holy war.

“Jesus isn’t coming,” the harassing heathen repeated. “He isn’t coming. What do you have to say about that?”

This was too much for a young African American man sitting next to me, who had a lot to say.

“You don’t have to say that,” he told the aggressive atheist.

“But he’s saying all this stuff--”

“--I understand that. Just let him talk.”

“It’s annoying!” said yet another commuter, apparently siding with the infidel.

This thing was turning into a rolling jihad. All we needed were a couple of rabbis and an Imam or two and we could reenact the Crusades.

Everyone calmed down after that and eventually we all went our separate ways. The MTA is planning to raise the transit fare and after this episode I guess they’ll be charging an entertainment fee.

I’m feeling a little better, but I’m a bit gun-shy since I had improved a few times over the last three weeks only to do the Sisyphean slide right back to sickness.

I’ve scheduled an appointment with a doctor who specializes in chronic fatigue cases, something I’ve been putting off for the longest time.

And now with the back misery returning, I’ll probably have to get more physical therapy, which means an even longer time away from the gym.

I’m trying to get a handle on my emotions, I really am, but it isn’t easy. I can barely sit down to type this post, the pain in my leg is so bad.

I know the “poor me” stuff doesn’t help and it only makes me feel guilty when I read about people who have much more serious problems. But I feel like I’m going through a serious run of bad luck right now.

Anytime you’re ready, Jesus…

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Into The Hood

The sign taped to the streetlight in Red Hook did not mince words:

"Warning: Teenage dirtbags are mugging people in this area. Stop fiddling with your cell phone and pay attention."

Oh, great. Here I was, lost in a strange neighborhood at night, no idea of where I was going, and standing outside an empty park that looked like a training ground for apprentice hooligans.

I was supposed to be going to a friend’s house, but I had somehow managed to wander into No Man’s Land.

All of a sudden, the teeming unwashed masses of people who cough, spit, blab into cellphones and constantly get in my way had vanished in some kind of urban Rapture and I was completely alone.

Except for the teenage dirtbags, of course, who were doubtless hiding behind every tree fiddling with their switchblades and paying attention to my every move.

I had started the evening off by nearly getting on the wrong bus at 9th Street, but luckily a very helpful lady kept me from heading off in the opposite direction.

After reaching my stop, I crossed under the BQE and as the neighborhood became more industrial and less populated, I got that sinking feeling that I was going the wrong way and I had no idea which way was the right way.

So I kept going, farther and farther away from civilization. I spotted lights coming from an oil delivery company and I walked in hoping to score some directions.

There were some blue collar types inside, laughing and joking around with each other. One guy with a shaved head and tattoos all over his arms and neck eyed me suspiciously when I asked how to get to Clinton Street.

“Where do you want to go?” he said.

Maybe he thought I was one of the hipsters who have invaded Brooklyn and I wanted to assure him that, no, I’m from Bay Ridge, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, just like you. But that wasn’t necessary.

“Clinton Street is one block over,” one his friends told me.

I thanked them and resumed walking.

Getting Warmer

I have this fascination with working class types—construction workers, cops, firefighters, and truck drivers. These are the guys who make things happen, erect the buildings, put out the fires, and deliver the goods--literally.

Maybe some part of me wants to be one of them, join that simple, roughneck world, even though I know I would never fit in.

I was still thinking these deep thoughts when I ran into the sign about the mutant teenage ninja dirtbags. Suddenly I wished those oil delivery guys were with me tattoos and all.

I turned from the sign and headed toward distant lights. I was on Clinton Street, so that was good. All I had to do was follow the numbers until I reached my buddy’s house.

I crossed a few streets and came upon a housing project.

I quickly noticed that I looked a little…different…from everybody else in the vicinity—okay, I was the only white guy around, all right?--and the blasting car stereos weren’t making me feel any more comfortable.

But I was still lost, so I crossed the street to a bodega and approached a young Hispanic man who was quite obese and in need of a cane.

I told him where I was going and he explained that Clinton Street gets a little tricky as you cross back under the BQE. And even though it was very difficult for him, he walked with me to a spot by the curb to point out exactly where I had to go.

I thanked him profusely and kept going until I reached my destination.

I don’t know how I managed to get so incredibly lost, but I realized later that I’d be still be wandering around the empty warehouses if it were not for the help of some of those teeming unwashed masses that I so often complain about.

The lady at the bus station, the oil company guys, and that fellow with the cane—all went out of their way to help me out even though I was a total stranger.

Maybe it was good that I got lost. It got me stop to fiddling with my prejudices and pay attention so that I could really find my way.