Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tube Boob

I’m starting to feel like the Flying Dutchman of television.

It seems like every time I get hooked on a new TV show and recommend it to friends and family, the program is promptly canceled and driven off the air like a plague.

I first noticed this phenomenon back in 1992 when I stumbled across “The Ben Stiller Show” on Fox.

It’s been a while, but I remember the show having some excellent sketches, including a medieval version of “Cops” and a take-off on “A Few Good Men” that featured Stiller cross-examining himself as both the Tom Cruise and the Jack Nicholson characters.

I told my friends at work that the show was funny and they should watch it. And it got canceled.

Twenty years later, I still haven’t lost my touch. The latest victim was “Awake,” a brilliant show on NBC that starred Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten, an L.A. cop who finds himself living two different lives after a fatal car crash.

In one version of reality, Britten’s wife has been killed in the accident and he struggles as a single father.

However, when he goes to sleep, he wakes up in another version of his life where his son has died and he and wife cope with the loss of their only child.

Yes, it was nominally a cop show, but that genre label was really a jumping off point from which the stories could explore the hero’s fractured psyche.

I particularly enjoyed the scenes with the psychiatrists in the dual (duel?) realities—portrayed by two fine actors, B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones--who tried to help the detective through this bizarre situation.

The show had an original idea, great scripts and an excellent cast. So naturally it was cancelled.

"Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?"

Of course, now you did actually have to pay attention to what was going on and that might have been the program’s undoing.

“Awake” can now go off to TV Valhalla, along with “The Chicago Code,” a well-executed police drama, and “Men of A Certain Age,” a show I really loved about three middle-aged guys trying to get by in Los Angeles.

Now, I don’t want to cop an attitude that I’m some sensitive artistic soul who can truly appreciate good programs, while everybody else is a slobbering, knuckle-walking philistine—even though that’s true.

I know nothing lasts forever, especially in television. And there’s no shame in a short run. There are a couple of shows I actually like that should probably think about calling it a day.

Just because Marshall Dillon enforced the law in Dodge City for 20 flipping years on “Gunsmoke” doesn’t mean every show has to be on the tube through four presidential administrations.

Life on Mars,” a British program about a modern day cop who wakes up in the Seventies after being hit by a car (what is it with TV cops and cars?) ran for two seasons for a total of 16 episodes, but that was plenty.

The story ended and the writers came back with a sequel called “Ashes to Ashes” which has yet to cross the DVD divide to the States.

So “Awake” has been put to sleep and another good show hits the deck. I probably watch too much TV already, even though I zap my way through the commercials with the DVR, and I should be doing more of my own writing.

As for the Curse of Howdy Doody, well, allow me to recommend a little show called “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”…

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Double Nickel

When I was a young man I used go to a local karate school in hopes of becoming a fearless killer.

Our sensei was a stocky Italian-American man who would routinely ream us out for being so pathetically out of shape.

“I am fifty-five years old,” he roared at us one night, “and I can do this!”

I was about 20 at the time and I remember thinking, fifty-five? God, that’s so old! I can't imagine being 55!

Well, as of today, I’m fifty-five years old. The karate school, which had been located over an old bingo hall, is now a New York Sports Club and I still go there.

I never did earn that black belt, and I'm no fearless killer, but I feel like I deserve some kind of award for making it this far. I know a number of people who didn’t, so I am extremely thankful that I’m still around.

“This is my special day,” I thought as I walked to get my bus this morning.

I had planned to write about how I haven’t reached a lot of my goals or seen many of my dreams come true, but then it occurred to me that I say that every day of the week.

It’s my birthday, damn it, and the best thing I can do for myself is to take a break for all this self-imposed misery.

I think about all the birthday parties my mother put together for me and my siblings when we were kids. She didn’t hire any clowns or rent out a McDonald’s—she did it all by herself and she did it in our house.

Back then, birthdays were such incredible events; or at least my mother made it feel that way.

Later on in life she did gently warn me about the “birthday blues,” when you realize that the world really isn’t grinding to a halt just because you happened to have been born on a particular day. I wish she could be here with me today.

Wednesday is usually my church day, but I’m still feeling a little under the weather, so I watched the lunchtime service at Trinity Church on the Internet.

It’s not the same as being there, of course—you can’t receive Communion or shake hands for the Sign of Peace—but you can still learn some valuable lessons.

Don't Be Hatin'

Rev. Mark was in fine form, encouraging us to write a list of positive things in our lives. This wouldn’t be a collection of grievances and complaints, he said, but rather, it would be “a love letter to the world.”

“Anger and hate will never change any situation or person for the good,” he said.

As someone who has wasted a whole lot of time, energy and brain cells on anger and hate, I can attest to that.

He told us to respond to the difficulties in life with love and “if you don’t have love in your heart, then pray for the desire to be loving.”

“Love always defeats evil,” Rev. Mark said, “life is always stronger than death.”

If I had actually been in church I would’ve hugged the guy.

With yet another birthday under my belt and my aunt’s recent passing, I’ve been thinking about my own demise.

Yesterday I was looking at myself in the mirror and, as I prepared for my morning shave, I thought of my last day. I tried to imagine just not existing anymore and I have to be honest—it scared the hell out of me.

I try to be a good Christian and believe in life everlasting, but I felt the fear overtaking me. I actually walked away from the mirror just to get my head back together.

I calmed down after a few moments. I realized that this world existed for a long time before I ever showed up and it will continue to do so long after I’m gone.

I have no control over that, but I can control how I react to whatever life has in store for me. I can use the love in my heart to defeat evil.

Yes, this is my special day, but I realize, now that I’m fifty-five years old, that every day you’re alive is a special day.

So treat every new morning like a gift and when you write that love letter to the world, make sure you send a copy to yourself.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bench Mark

I was relaxing in the park this afternoon when I heard the angelic voice of a little girl floating over me.

“Why is he sleeping on the bench?”

It took a second for me to realize that “he” was “me” and that this innocent child was referring to yours truly. And not very nicely.

I was indeed stretched out on a park bench on Shore Road, enjoying the warm weather—and minding my own business, I might add, and I suppose to the untrained eye I might have looked like a homeless bum in need of a shave and a career—as opposed to the soon-to-be-world-renown literary and cinematic genius I really and truly am.

I opened my eyes in time to see a man walking away from me with a cute little blond girl perched on his shoulders. I gave her a smile and threw her a wave but she turned away, clearly unimpressed.

Give me a break, kid, I thought, I’m having a rough time here.

How rough? Well, for starters I feel like crap. I’ve got a cold or a virus or a sinus infection or a voodoo curse or yellow fever, what ever the hell I got, I feel like 10 cents worth of God-help-us—despite this lovely spring day.

I don’t get it. I came through the entire winter—the holidays, vacation in California, and all the accompanying stress—without so much as a sniffle. And now, when the birds are chirping and people are chasing after Frisbees in their shorts, I want to curl up into a ball and hide under a park bench. How is this possible?

The only good thing about being sick this time of year is that you don’t have to bundle up in animal hides and galoshes and deal with the hideously fierce climate.

On top of this grief, there's the Sewanee Writers' Conference, which finally responded to my application for the summer session in Tennessee. I was hoping I would be accepted so I could improve my skills, meet other writers, and, yes, perhaps brush elbows with some agents.

It wouldn’t hurt to get out of Brooklyn for a little while and spend some time in a new location working at my craft.

The response came this week, but for some reason it was routed to my junk mail folder and thankfully I was doing my weekly review of Viagra offers and bogus lottery awards or I never would’ve seen it.

On Your Way Out...

“Dear Rob Lenihan,” the email begins, going for the personal touch, “On the basis of the report from our fiction readers, I regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a place in the 2012 session…”

On the basis of the report from our fiction readers? Do you call that good writing? Maybe you should attend the conference yourself. I’ve seen better prose in one of those Nigerian lottery scams—and they’re not native speakers.

Hell, at least the guys at Free Trial Enlargement invited me to “Challenge Mike Myers as the love guru.” And they suggested I make my lady “cry out in joy every night.” Now that’s powerful writing.

The Sewanee people said they were “experiencing a very strong response in fiction, and competition for available spaces is keen.”

Keen? Is that keen as in “peachy keen” or keen as in “will you keenly stop bothering us with your stupid submissions and go challenge Mike Myers as the love guru?”

After reading this email I wanted to cry out every night, but not in joy.

Okay, I knew this was a long shot—kind of like that 50,000 British Pounds that's lodged in a Western Union account that Mr. Charlie Palmer wants to transfer to me.

I really didn’t think the scholarly folks down in Tennessee were all that interested in a bunch of Brooklyn mobsters trying to murder each other, which is what my novel is about.

But I didn’t want to let yet another opportunity go by, let another deadline pass, without at least trying to be heard.

The Sewanee email ends by saying that “nonetheless, we are grateful for the chance to see your work, and we wish you the best with your writing.” Yes, you and all the agents who have given me the bum's rush, the heave-ho, and the get lost.

Why can’t they be more like Mr. Chung Chao, who has an urgent business proposal for me? Or my lover, Adriana, whom I’ve never met, but who, nevertheless, wants to “pick up where we left off” and is “looking for a good time on the town?”

Or even Tori, who wrote to say that she is now single and moving “RIGHT EFFING NEAR” me? Tori, by the way, works on a webcam chat community site where she gets “paid to chat with people and get naked HHAHA…” Report that to your fiction readers.

The Tennessee people invited me to try again next year and perhaps I will.

There are other conferences and programs and I’m still going to submit my work to agents in hopes of getting published, becoming famous, and getting off that park bench.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heart of A Mother

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” -- HonorĂ© de Balzac

I thought I’d get through today without crying, but I was wrong.

It’s been nearly 10 years since my mother died and I was certain that Mother’s Day wouldn’t affect me the way it had when we first lost her.

And then I thought of the importance of this day while I was doing the breakfast dishes and the tears started to flow. I still miss her so much.

There are so many things I want to share with her, so many things I want to ask her, and so many stupid, selfish words, deeds and missteps that I want to apologize for that it’s driving me crazy.

I think about all the anguish I caused her as I struggled to find a career and then I’m reaching for the tissues once more.

Both my parents are gone and there are times when I feel like I’ve been set adrift in some vast ocean and land is nowhere in sight. And my Aunt Margaret’s death on Thursday is adding to that feeling of loss and abandonment.

My mother spent her last years in and out of hospitals and even then she would try to comfort me.

"Don't worry about me," she said to me one time and I rolled my eyes.

"Ask me not to breathe," I said.

Road Trip

Saturday was my sister’s birthday and it honor of that fabulous event the three of us—sister, myself, and our Aunt Marie—took off for the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

The weather was lovely and the garden is so beautiful that the city seems to disappear as you go deeper into the green. We actually saw a rabbit--an honest to God rabbit--running across the path ahead of us. I wonder if he was late for a very important date…

At one point during our walk, a little boy came charging toward us.

“Wait for Mommy,” my sister told him, but he wasn’t having any of that.

“I don’t want her,” he angrily declared and kept going up the path.

His mother came up a few seconds later and then we heard the little guy crying his way through a first rate temper tantrum.

“He didn’t want his mother,” I said. “He’ll change his mind about that one day.”

I have this distant memory of throwing a tantrum of my own when I was this kid’s age. I have no idea what it was about—as if kids actually need a reason to have a tantrum—but I recall shouting for my mother to “leave me alone!”

She seemed a little hurt by this and when she very gently said okay, that she would leave me alone, I cried even harder. I didn’t want her to leave me alone at all—not then and certainly not now.

My sister reminded me that little kids say all sorts of things because they don’t know any better. I’m trying to apply that logic to the ugly things I've said over the years, but it’s not easy.

I usually hate it when people speak for the departed, but I know that our mother wouldn’t want us to roil in guilt over some ancient argument—even though I have this strange gift for dredging up bad memories at light speed.

When she forgave us for something we did, she forgave us 100 percent, no questions asked.

That’s something to think about this Mother’s Day and for all the days that follow.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Last Holiday

We lost another member of our family today.

My father’s sister, Margaret, died this evening. She had fallen down in her apartment earlier in the day, hit her head, and went into cardiac arrest.

She was taken to the hospital, but she never regained consciousness. She was 88 years old.

The last time I saw Margaret was on Easter Sunday when we went to dinner with her at a restaurant in Sheepshead Bay.

It seems fitting that this last meeting was on a holiday since that’s when I usually saw Margaret and many of my other family members—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, all the big ones.

I remember calling her the morning my father died to tell her the bad news and she started to cry. My father, too, had fallen and hit his head. That was five years ago and now she’s gone.

It just doesn’t seem right. There’s nothing we can do but stand by and watch our parents’ generation die off one by one. I'm thinking of all those great holiday meals, all those good times, and how so many of those people are gone now.

Margaret was pretty much confined to a wheelchair toward the end of her life and her hands had become terribly twisted by arthritis.

She was active, though, and my sister tells me that just yesterday she went out with some of her friends and had a great time. That’s not bad for the last day of your life.

When my parents were married in 1950, they had their photographer make a set of 3-D glass slides of the wedding pictures.

I used to love looking through the viewfinder at those pictures—the colors were so vibrant and the people are just bursting with life. It feels like you can almost touch them.

There’s one image of my father and Margaret dancing together. They’re both so young and happy. Margaret’s got a big smile on her face and holding…a cigarette?

My Uncle Joe and his wife visited us from L.A. a few years back and one night we went over to Margaret’s place to have dinner.

I thought about bringing those slides so we could all view them again and I could hear some stories about the day my parents got married. But I forgot to bring them.

I told myself that I’d make sure to bring them with me the next time we all got together, but there’ll be no next time now. And who knows what stories I missed.

I like that image of the young Margaret--young, happy, and healthy. I want to freeze-frame my memory and keep that picture of her in my mind for all time.

Rest in peace, Margaret. And say hello to Dad.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Smile or Go Home

The woman with the buzzcut was giving out free advice as well as newspapers on Church Street this week.

“Smile,” she said to the somnambulant commuters. “Smile or go home!”

It was a good suggestion, actually, but I think I’d get in trouble with my boss if I turned tail and went back to Brooklyn because I couldn’t come up with a grin.

Still, I’ve been trying to be more positive. I saw this little boy in a stroller on Monday morning and I can’t get him out of my head—mainly because I want to keep him there.

I saw him as I was walking up Fulton Street. His mother was pushing the stroller toward me and this little guy was so excited at everything he saw that he seemed ready to climb out of his seat.

He was looking in all directions, at all the people and buildings and activity; he couldn’t get enough.

The contrast between this boy’s boundless enthusiasm and everybody else’s bottomless misery was stunning.

Here we were, Monday freaking morning, heading back to work with this somebody-please-kill-me look on our faces while this kid was in awe of the world around him.

Of course we were all adults with grown-up grief and problems.

None of us can stay babies forever, but even though there are many negative expressions associated with children—stop acting like a baby; don’t be infantile; grow up!—you can still learn something from the mouths of babes.

As it was in the beginning...

This reminds me of my Day One pledge that I made back in December, where I vowed to reboot my entire existence. There’s been no miracle cure, but I think I am slowly changing my view of the world in which I live.

It’s true that I’m not where I want to be in my life, but I’ve got my family, a job and a roof over my head, and that’s more them a lot of other people have.

With that in mind, I treated myself to an hour-long Reiki session on Friday night. I had met this woman at my company’s health fair and she offered me a treatment for half her usual price.

I had a brief encounter with Reiki last year and I never followed up on it, so I thought that instead of saying no like I usually do when faced with something new, I’d answer in the affirmative to this lady’s offer and try to improve my life.

So I went over to a studio on Canal Street and literally put myself in her hands. It felt so strange, lying face down on a massage table while this lady did her thing.

I completely lost track of time, I forgot about the outside world, even though I could hear horns honking and radios blaring from the street below. I think I fell asleep at one point and I woke up feeling...good.

I’m not sure I’ll go back to this lady, but I know I want to continue with Reiki. I want to see the world the same way that little boy did.

I want to enjoy every day like it’s day one and if that doesn’t put a smile on my face, I’m going to jump into my stroller and go the hell home.