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.