Sunday, January 29, 2012

Police Story

I walked into the community affairs office at the 68th Precinct and approached the cop behind the desk.

You fuck!” He roared before I had a chance to open my mouth. “You didn’t bring us any coffee!

I stood there in shock, trying not to wet my pants or run out the door. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered this place, but I surely wasn’t expecting this.

It was sometime around 1986 and I was working as a reporter for a weekly paper in Bay Ridge. I had been sent there to get some stories for the police blotter and this cop, Larry, was the guy to see.

I don’t think I had ever been in a police station prior to that day. I hardly had anything to do with cops at all. Shucks, I was a good Catholic boy living in a quiet neighborhood. Why would I get involved with the police?

It turned out Larry was just breaking my cojones, something cops the world over like to do to reporters. I later learned that if cops yank your chain it usually means they like you. If they’re curt and professional, it’s probably a sign that they don’t trust you and you should find another line of work.

And Larry wouldn’t have turned down that coffee if I had thought to bring some along. Cops, I discovered, like freebies.

While some people dream all their lives of being reporters, I kind of backed into the profession. I was lacking direction and other than the fact that I wanted to write for a living, I didn’t know any definitive career plans.

The weekly paper was a good place to start. I covered all kinds of local stories—including crime.

We got a call one day from a woman in Park Slope. That was pretty much the fringe of our coverage area, but this woman said that she had looked out her window and seen “a cop on the ground.”

She didn’t know any more than that and, since we didn’t have a scanner in our newsroom, neither did we. But it sounded serious, like maybe a cop had been shot. So off I went in the pouring rain looking for mayhem in a neighborhood I barely knew.

I drove all around the street where the cop had supposedly gone down, but I didn’t see any serious activity. I didn’t see any activity, just wet streets and dark skies.

But I wanted to be thorough, so I drove to the police precinct in downtown Brooklyn. This was an older building, a holdover perhaps from the Forties, and bore no resemblance to the modern-ish design of the Six-Eight.

I was still a little tense about being in a police station, but I approached the desk sergeant and asked about an incident involving a police officer being injured.

And he started laughing.

Closer Than You Think

It turned out that the cop in question had indeed gone down—after slipping on the wet sidewalk and falling on his butt.

However, he quickly got back up--something our tipster failed to notice--and he and his partner arrested their man.

The sergeant brought me back to speak with the two officers.

“Here they are,” he said loudly, “the hero cops.”

The cops filled me in on what the suspect had done, and honestly it was so long ago, I don’t remember, except that it was incredibly minor, compared with what I had been expecting.

And please understand I wasn’t wishing that someone had gotten hurt; I just wanted a decent story.

“Where’s the suspect now?” I asked.

“He’s right behind you,” one of the cops said, nodding over my shoulder.

I whirled around and saw this morose young man handcuffed to a radiator pipe.

“You may want to step back,” the cop casually added, “in case he tries to grab your keester.”

I did exactly what I was told, got the rest of the facts and scooted back up to Bay Ridge.

It turned out that I would be spending a lot of time in police stations over the next several years and doing all sorts of crazy things.

The police scanner would be my constant companion as I ran to fires and car accidents on freezing cold nights, got cursed at by criminals and their families, and worried constantly about making a mistake or being scooped by competing newspapers.

I remember hanging out with a bunch of Pennsylvania state troopers at a traffic stop on my birthday just to shoot the breeze. I even helped carry a body bag away from a fatal fire scene one time.

I also had to fight to keep alleged “colleagues” from helping themselves to my stories. It never fails: when there’s a four-alarm fire in the dead of winter, you can be certain that you’ll be on your own.

But when you come across some juicy scandal, you’ll find that you have dozens of little helpers just itching to get a piece of the story.

I didn’t know of any this back, of course, and if I had I would’ve found something else to do. But I can look back upon this experiences fondly now.

Police reporting can be stressful, miserable work, but it can also be thrilling, where you see people at their very best and their very worst; where you speak to people who have lost their loved ones or been burned out of their homes and where your whole day can be turned upside by the codes coming out of the scanner.

It forced me to do things I would never thought I’d be capable of doing and I know I’m the better for it.

And despite all the high pressure, long hours and strange people, I’m happy to say that no one ever grabbed my keester.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

God Bless You, Miss Indelible

When I first started blogging, I decided that I would allow people to write whatever they wanted in the comments section.

I wasn’t going to silence critics and only retain the positive remarks. I wasn’t going to stifle anyone’s freedom of expression or be a cyber-nun parsing each and every word someone left behind.

Say whatever you want, I thought, it won't bother me a bit.

But then the “Cheap Viagra” ads started and I couldn’t seem to stop them. They were particularly annoying because they were often worded to appear as if a real human being has read your post.

“You’re so right,” they’ll say, or “that’s really funny,” before launching into their shtick, which, of course, involved logging on to some website and buying whatever they were peddling. (No, I didn’t and shame on you for asking.)

So now I monitor the comments and occasionally I’ll be forced to zap some bit of digital drivel to the ninth circle of Internet hell where it belongs.

Recently, though, I got a comment that was so bizarre, so monumentally twisted that “spam” doesn’t begin to describe it. This tome wasn’t computer-generated-—somebody actually sat down to write the damn thing, which I find rather frightening.

It’s a verbal freak show, a linguistic dumpster fire, a toxic collection of syllables that should be surrounded with yellow crime scene tape and hosed down by the EPA.

It’s kind of messed up.

I have no idea what this guy’s problem is and, sadly, I don’t think he does either. My original post was about my on-going back troubles and this individual chose to respond with a blazing torrent of gibberish that could peel the paint off an aircraft carrier.

And it went something like this...

You're So Wrong

'Lunatic' would be better - look forward to an eXXXplosion in the come'n year, with alla the outta-work, underpaid, lower-class families in this hardcore, whorizontal depression caused by the OWG.

They need work? Selling their flesh is maybe the only way besides praying and asking for forgiveness.

Nyah! They're too proud. See why our Mother sed only 1/4 of humanity's gonna make it??

If you delete this, the sin is on YOUR head. I'm only the prophet --- Here's what we'll have in Heaven (for the women): HEAR YE! O HEAR YE! Wanna be at my BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy celebrating our resurrection for eons and eons in Heaven Above, girly?

A profusion of peace, eternal plethora of paradise, palm trees, 72ish degrees, fuzzy-navels, point-blank, passion-in-primetime, pink, picturesque-portions-we’ll-possess, delicious-and-nutritious perennial pleasures, too, without price, nor pride, without passwords, nor plastic, nor pretext.

You’re more than welcome, girl; you’re definitely invited - God’s calling you through this sinfull mortal.

Whether you respond YAY or NAY is up to you --- God only gives bawls to those who see the need for humility, Miss Indelible. God bless you.

See what I mean? There’s some kind of religious message here and a warning about Armageddon, but it’s so garbled that suddenly the end times don’t look so bad.

I’m not sure what the “girly” or the “Miss Indelible” is about as I’m pretty sure I’m a male. Or at least I was when I got up this morning.

But then it’s probably asking too much of this "sinfull mortal" to write something that makes sense. He's only the prophet to whom God has apparently given a large set of "bawls."

I did eventually delete this rant—once I got over my shock—so I guess the sin is on my head now.

God bless you, whoever the hell you are. I wish you a profusion of peace and an eternal plethora of paradise and you’re definitely invited to go comment on somebody else’s blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tuxedo Farewell

The year has just begun and I’ve already lost a friend.

My sister’s cat, Tuxedo, crossed that Rainbow Bridge after suffering a stroke and left this life on the same day our father did in 2007.

Tuxedo had a heart condition and the vet had warned my sister that he could go at any time. But that doesn’t lessen the pain of losing him.

I had a special fondness for Tuxedo. I used to drive him and his brother, Smokey, to their vet's office in Manhattan. They weren’t happy about being packed up in their cat boxes and hauled over to the city, but it had to be done.

Both Smokey and Tuxedo were very shy around strangers and would run like hell whenever I came over. Often the only sight I had of them was their rear ends disappearing under my sister’s bed.

But Tuxedo surprised me one night shortly after our first vet run. We were sitting in the kitchen and he came walking in like he owned the place. And being a cat, of course, he did own the place.

I was stunned because usually if I wanted to see him, I’d have to get down on my knees, lift the blankets of my sister’s bed, and peer into the darkness. And now here he was out in the open.

But then it got even crazier when Tuxedo walked up to me and jumped right into my lap.

Okay, now I was completely speechless—no wisecracks, no jokes, no words whatsoever. I was too shocked to say anything.

How could this cat who was once so terrified of me now suddenly feel so at ease in my presence?

Up We Go

I didn’t think he knew that I was his driver, since he was in the cat box the whole time, but maybe he identified me by my voice or my scent, or used that animal ESP that I hear so much about. In any case, he made me a very happy man just by performing that simple act.

And now Tuxedo’s jumped into God’s lap.

That’s trouble with pets. They give us so much love and devotion and yet they’re only with us for such a painfully short time. It doesn’t seem fair.

Tuxedo was gone by the time we got to the animal hospital. While we waited to see him one last time, we heard a woman sobbing in another part of the building, indicating that someone else had lost a loved on this night.

My sister was very rightfully concerned about how Smokey would handle the loss of his sibling. The vet suggested rubbing a cloth over Tuxedo’s body so Smokey could get his brother’s scent.

The only problem was we didn’t have any cloth. I was wondering what to do and then I looked down at this ratty old scarf I’ve had since the Carter Administration.

I’ve been meaning to toss it for years, but each spring I throw the thing back in the closet and forget about it until the cold weather comes back.

It was time to break the cycle. Instead of just trashing this old garment, we’d use it for a good cause. I pulled the scarf off my neck and handed it over to my sister. She rubbed it over Tuxedo's body and now it belongs to Smokey.

I have a new scarf now and it’s a real beauty. Every time I put it on I like to think of a good friend who made me feel so special and whom I'd gladly drive to the ends of the earth and back.

Thanks, Tuxedo. And rest in peace.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Thy Perfect Light

It’s amazing the things you see when you actually start looking.

I had this experience on Friday when I went to the noon mass at Trinity Church.

It was Epiphany, the official end of the holiday season and I had seen several discarded Christmas trees on the sidewalks in my neighborhood that morning. The lights would be coming down next.

Epiphany comes from the Greek ephiphaneia meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance" and during the sermon, Rev. Mark spoke about the importance of the star that the Three Wise Men followed through the desert.

He encouraged us to “find the star with your name on it.”

“You can also be the star,” he told us.

I love the whole idea of stars and light since I tend to sink into dark moods if I’m not careful. But things got really weird when I happened to look up over the altar to the stained glass windows depicting Jesus and several saints.

I looked a little bit higher and I saw…a star.

It was actually a star-shaped light, but the point is that I have been going to Trinity for at least four years now and I’d never seen the star until Friday.

Am I really that unobservant…or is this star a new decoration? Either way, I found it to be very inspirational.

At the end of the service I went to greet Rev. Mark and wished him a Happy New Year.

“Are you going to make this year better than last year?” he said, pumping my hand.

Well, he got me so motivated, so enthusiastic that I completely forgot where I was and to whom I was speaking.

“Oh, hell, yes!” I declared.

I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth. Did I just say a bad word to a priest…in church? Yeah, I kinda think I did…

If I had said “hell” back in Catholic school I’d be seeing stars, all right, as the nuns would mercilessly pound me into a coma. That would be a genuine striking appearance from which I would never recover.

But I was several light years away from those bad old days and instead of getting Inquisitional on my butt, Rev. Mark put his head back and laughed.

I was embarrassed but relieved and I asked him about the star over the altar.

“Is that something new?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “It’s been there for years.”

“But I just saw it today,” I said.

“That’s what I’m talking about!”

I left church feeling pretty good. I had found my star, gotten a good laugh, and narrowly avoided excommunication all in less than an hour.

That’s the kind of productivity I want to bring into the New Year.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Halfway to the Stars

Whenever our family went on vacation, my father would complain that he was doing too much driving.

“I’m chained to the goddamn wheel,” he’d declare in full victim mode.

Of course we ignored him and demanded to be driven here, there, and everywhere in between. That's what kids do, right?

I just returned to New York after spending Christmas week in San Francisco with my family and this time I was the one chained to the goddamn wheel—and I enjoyed every second of it.

I haven’t owned a car since I moved back to the city 14 years ago. The insurance rates are too high, traffic is a nightmare and parking is even worse.

I do miss driving, though, and since I’ve never owned a new car, I'll jump at the chance to sit behind the wheel of anything made in the 21st Century.

Well, we had a great time. My sister, auntie, and myself all flew out to see my brother, his wife, and my niece Victoria, who turns 17 (oh, God) this month.

Apparently our flight out of JFK was delayed, but I was so zonked out on Xanax that I have absolutely no recollection of this and, from what my sister tells me, that’s all for the best.

There was something about waiting for a replacement part and getting us to our destination “as safely as possible” that I thankfully missed.

Say “no” to drugs? Not on an airplane, brother.

After getting the car and finding our hotel, we zipped over to a local restaurant where Victoria works as a waitress and paid her a surprise visit. Oh, if only I had gotten a picture of her as we strolled in through the back door…she would have killed me.

I even had my magical Christmas moment when I was talking with Victoria at my brother’s house and Kristin, my other beautiful niece, called me from New York. For a few lovely minutes I had both of them with me at the same time. God bless us, everyone, indeed.

That night we had dinner at Benihana, where the chef does all these funky things with your food before you stuff your face.

During the week, we went to the Legion of Honor, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, while hitting Carmel, Monterey, and the Ferrari-Carano winery in Healdsburg.

Ferrari was my mother’s maiden name, so this place had special meaning for us. Of course I couldn’t do any drinking because I was chained to the goddamn wheel---oops—because I was driving. But I had fun nevertheless.

That's All Folks!

There’s a huge statue of a wild boar outside the winery, commemorating the demise of a savage pig that had been raising hell in the vicinity until he got his porcine ticket punched.

A plaque beneath the statue cites an old legend that “if you rub the wild boar’s snout, good luck will come your way.”

You can bet a month's wages that we all lined up to rub that porker’s honker until his beak put Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's to shame. Not that I’m superstitious or anything…

In the name of full disclosure, I did have a chance to turn the car over to my brother at one point because my relatives were worried I might have trouble getting through the fog around the Golden Gate Bridge.

To be honest, I was a little nervous myself, but I didn’t want to give into my fears. Hell, I didn’t fly all the way from Brooklyn in a drug-induced stupor just to punk out over a handful of mist.

And I didn’t want to chain my brother to the wheel either, so I took the keys and hit the road.

There was a point when we were coming home from one of our trips where I was driving and just listening to my relatives talking to each other. I didn’t join in the conversation, I just enjoyed the moment and I wonder if my father, in spite of all his protests, didn’t relish his time behind the wheel as well.

My father came to mind again while we were walking through Land’s End in San Francisco one day. We were standing out a spot overlooking the bay and we came upon a note that someone had written to his or her deceased father.

Dad,” the letter said. “Hope you enjoy the beautiful view. Mom is very sick and we miss you.”

I hope whoever this person is found some solace in writing this message and leaving it at this lovely spot.

The trip had to end, of course, and so we all packed into the car and headed down 101 North to SFO.

Naturally I was a nervous wreck just thinking about getting into an airplane. There were cars zipping all around me and this big-ass truck wouldn’t get out of my way.

I got a little closer and saw that the rig belonged to—are you ready?—a freaking casket company, which I think is proof positive that God has a sense of humor. Too bad I don’t.

I turned over the car, swallowed a bucket of pills, and slipped into a coma. No offense to the Ferrari boar, but it takes more than a lucky pig snout to get me airborne. The next thing I knew, I was back in Brooklyn freezing my tail off.

So the holidays were a rousing success and I’m slowly working on all those things I put off until after Christmas. I’m sorry the vacation is over, but I’ll never regret being chained to the wheel.