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.