Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clown Atlas

If there’s a patron saint of klutzes, I could sure use his help.

I’ve been on what feels like a nonstop doofus run for the last week or so, as I break or lose just about anything I put my hands on.

It started when I misplaced one of my crappy old gloves.

I can’t even guess how these things are—I think they once belonged to my father--so it’s not like I lost some valuable piece of attire.

But it’s just so goddamn annoying. There are few things as worthless as a single glove-- unless it belongs to Captain Hook.

And what really bugged me was the fact that just the day before I remarked on how I hadn’t lost a glove in years. So I got a fistful of karma for mouthing off.

In desperation, I hiked all over Bay Ridge, retracing my steps like some cut-rate Kojack in search of my missing mitten. But I came up empty.

Luckily the glove turned up at my gym the following day and I thought, okay, life will now return to normal.

Then disaster struck.

I have a statue of St. Martin de Porres that once belonged to my grandmother. She used to pray to him all the time and I still do. I even took “Martin” as my confirmation name to honor my grandmother.

Up until recently I kept the statue on my bedroom bureau so I could see St. Martin every morning when I got up.

So I’m making my bed one morning and for some strange and rather dimwitted reason, I snapped the top blanket in the air like a matador challenging an Iberian bull—and knocked St. Martin flat on his back. Ole!

Prayer Position

For a second I thought all was well, that no damage had been done. But then I noticed a little piece of plastic on the bureau and realized to my horror that I had actually severed St. Martin’s praying hands.

I managed to offend Almighty God, trash my grandmother’s memory, and assure my own special place in Hell, all in one bonehead move.

It looked like a clean break, but I couldn’t get the hands to go back on no matter what I did. I called my auntie for a telephonic freak-out and she did her best to calm me down.

“Grandma was not a small-minded person,” she said. “And neither is God.”

I decided I had to take some kind of action, so I ran up to a local antique store and the owner showed me where I was going so pathetically wrong.

I had the hands pointing out, like St. Martin was about to dive off the Brooklyn Bridge, but they actually go against his chest, so that—duh!--he’s actually praying.

Eight years of Catholic school you’d think I’d know something like that.

I got a tube of Crazy Glue and went to work. It is hardly a slick repair job, but St. Martin’s officially got his hands back on and that’s all that matters.

I also helped my sister out of a jam on Christmas Eve when I glued one of our mother’s broken plates back together. I’m turning into a regular Mr. Fixit.

Or maybe not. Coming home on Friday, I put my copy of “Cloud Atlas” into my knapsack and managed to tear a nice gash in the cover. Even Crazy Glue can’t fix that.

And this afternoon I knocked over the remote and now the little door that holds that batteries in place is hanging limply in the air. This is not a good way to end the old year or start the new one.

So, if you can hear me, St. Doofus Aquinas, please stop me before I do any more damage.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shave On

I put it off for three whole days, but today I finally gave in.

I shaved.

I hadn’t touched my face for most of the week after deciding that I'd go to a barbershop on 74th Street and let Garry, the man with the razor, work his tonsorial magic.

And be advised that I didn’t go for some run-of-the-mill whisker wipe. Oh, heavens no. I ordered up the royal shave for both my magnificent mug and my beautiful hairless head.

It was decadent, selfish, a ridiculous waste of money—and I loved every second of it.

Hell, I haven’t gotten a shave from a barber since the Reagan Administration. That was back when I went to Leo, a little old Italian man who had a small shop on 68th Street.

Leo used to wave to me every morning as I walked to the subway station-even before I became a customer—and one of the first articles I ever did as a reporter was about Leo for a now defunct publication called Bay Ridge Life.

Then Leo closed his store and for some reason I stopped getting shaves. I’m not sure why, but I suspect I felt guilty paying for something that I could clearly do myself. Whatever the reason, I decided that the dry spell had to end.

Getting a barber’s shave to is like going back in time to the days of spats, speakeasies and bootleggers. I felt like Al Capone sitting in that chair, though I had no plans of beating anyone to death with a baseball bat…yet.

I’m glad I had the day off because the royal shave takes a princely amount of time. I sat there for more than hour. But if you're going to do something then take the time to do it right.

Garry told me that a prospective customer once came into his place and asked for a “quick shave.”

"I told him no," Garry said.

Slow Hand

Good move. In this age of instant everything, it’s nice to see someone rejecting the unhealthy need for speed that’s infecting a society with no particular place to go.

Once he was done shaving my head, Garry rubbed my gleaming pate with an electric massager that had my teeth happily rattling away. It was a like a giant joy buzzer for my skull.

And then came the hot towel.

Garry swathed my face in steaming fabric, leaving my nose exposed like a periscope poking out of the Artic Ocean. I tried to not to think about Albert Anastasia, the head of Murder Incorporated, who met his end in a barber chair at the Park Sheraton Hotel.

Fortunately we weren’t interrupted by gun-toting assassins and Garry was able to send me out into the world as smooth as a newborn baby.

“You won’t have to shave for three days,” he said with uncanny accuracy.

My head felt so shiny I could’ve taken a seat on top of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It was shame that I didn’t have anyplace to go. I was looking so sharp I thought about logging on to a dating website and setting up a last-minute rendezvous. You should never waste a good shave.

The experience cost me $40 plus tip, which my sister assures is nothing compared with what women shell out for a trip to the salon.

But still I felt guilty. I could’ve put that money toward theater tickets, or clothes, or maybe I could’ve given it to one of the many charities that send me appeals in the mail. No, I decided, no more barber shaves for me.

And there I was this morning in my bathroom, dragging a plastic razor across my face. It was so tedious and inefficient. And I was cutting myself to pieces. My sister encouraged me to go to Garry once a month and I’m thinking she might be right.

I feel better about myself and the world in general when I get a shave. So why not take a little time and money and make myself look even more handsome than I already am?

I’m sure Al would have wanted it that way.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Long Distance

I was taking my regular afternoon nap one Saturday when I heard my father’s voice.


That’s all. Just my name spoken as a question, the way my father used to greet me whenever he called me on the phone. We spoke nearly every morning during the 10 years I lived away from Brooklyn and that’s how our conversations always started.

My father’s been gone nearly seven years now, so I guess I was dreaming when I heard him speak.

But this audio fragment was the only thing my aging brain cells were able to retain. Any accompanying images vanished the moment I woke up.

And yet, as brief as it was, my father’s greeting still lingers in my mind.

It got me thinking about my relationship with my father and I have to say that we got along extremely well when we were on the opposite ends of a long distance phone call.

On the telephone my father was always supportive and kind. He’d ask me about what I was doing, what stories I was working on.

I’d complain about the idiots I had to work for and he’d remind me that “your boss may be wrong, but he’s still your boss.”

“Just keep doing your job,” he told me, “and look forward to the day you when walk into your boss’s office and say ‘I quit.’”

We hardly ever argued, and certainly didn’t scream at each other, like we did so often when we were in the same room. My father didn’t try to show me up, mock me, or make any cruel wisecracks. I didn’t lose my temper with him or roll my eyes in disbelief at something he said.

When we were on the phone we just…talked.

Once I had an early morning assignment in Hartford, which was about half-hour or so from where I lived in Waterbury. It was snowing and my father called me moments before I had to leave.

“Don’t go,” he said earnestly. “The roads are terrible.”

“I have to go,” I said. “It’s my job.”

It's For You

I didn’t get angry or annoyed at his suggestion, which probably would’ve gotten me fired. I didn’t feel like he was controlling me.

I could see that he was looking out for my safety, even though he wasn’t being realistic about it. And, for the record, the roads were terrible that morning.

I have been holding on to many bad memories of my dad, so “hearing” his telephone voice, even though it was only in my mind, reminded me that I did have a lot of good times with my father.

Last month I went to a Veterans Day reading in Park Slope. The writers had served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and, since my dad had served in World War II, I felt I should be there.

Listening to these writers describe their experiences, I thought about how my father’s generation was expected to come back from the nightmare of killing and destruction in Europe and just resume their lives as if they had been away on a camping trip.

I remember years ago we were watching “Adam-12,” a Jack Webb TV show about two cops patrolling the streets of L.A.

In this one episode, a rookie cop sobs after killing a thug in a gun battle.

“Bullshit!” my father said. “When you survive a gunfight, the first thing you feel is relief. You’re just glad to be alive.”

Obviously he was speaking from personal experience—he had been shot at and, most likely, had killed people. But I was too young and too self-centered to make that connection.

At the end of the reading, I made sure to greet and thank all of the authors for their service and their work.

On the bus ride home, I saw a woman sitting across from me suddenly start making the sign of the cross.

I was confused for a moment, but then I realized we must have been passing Our Lady of Perpetual Help on 59th Street.

The woman was holding her smart phone at the time, so I watched her glowing hand move across her body as she blessed herself in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It was a haunting image that sticks in my memory with the same tenacity as my father’s greeting. I’ll take it as a sign that I should declare peace with my past and to hear only the good voices, while letting the bad ones fade away.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Booth or Dare

Confession may be good for the soul, but it can be hell on the nervous system.

One of my creepiest Catholic school memories—and they are legion—involved stepping into the confessional.

I don’t know who thought children would benefit from kneeling in a pitch-black closet
and stammering out their misdeeds toward a scary silhouette, but take it from me, whoever this person was, he was seriously full of crap.

I was terrified when the nuns herded all of us little sinners into church to get our spirits buffed and shined.

The worst part came after you dropped the curtain and sat in the dark waiting for the priest to slide back the screen on your side of the box.

The only reason I didn’t run out screaming was that I knew the nuns would be ready to carve my heart out if they caught me going AWOL. So I knelt there and when the slide pulled back, I looked toward the light and did the routine.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…

Once you received your penance, you got the hell out of there—making sure, of course, to politely hold the curtain back for the next victim.

Confession was a struggle, no doubt, and I hated going, but I survived. Which is more than I can say for a lot of characters I’ve seen in movies and on TV over the years.

If you go by Hollywood standards, the confessional is a prime time crime scene for all manner of murder and mutilation. People get shot, stabbed, and strangled—all within this little space.

Penance for Your Thoughts

The latest entry to this large caliber canon is “Mob City,” TNT’s noir-toon about 1940s gang bangers in LA that I happened to watch the other night.

During an early scene a luckless underling is shot-gunned clean out of the booth in a thunderous act of ignition. Can I get an Amen? Can I get a pulse?

AMC started off its western series “Hell on Wheels” with a six-gun sign of the cross a few seasons back as the vengeance-seeking hero took the priest’s seat to nail one of his enemies right between the eyes.

The film “In Bruges” featured a father meeting his maker while trying to absolve his assassin’s sins and a priest gets his collar handed to him in “The Exorcist III”—yes, I saw it—as well.

There was some kind of confessional assault in “The Boondock Saints,” but I don’t think anybody actually died.

Those are only a few cases that I’ve come across and I’m sure there are others.

As an undocumented Episcopalian, I have little to do with the Catholic Church these days, much preferring the Protestant mass apology approach that spares everyone the personal details and reduces the likelihood of being murdered.

Still, I am concerned that non-Catholics will view confession as some claustrophobic version of “The Hunger Games.”

I suppose writers and filmmakers like the spooky surroundings that a church offers and relish the irresistible irony of having an act of violence take place on holy ground.

My advice would be to take it some place else. The confessional as killing ground shtick is way over-played.

As for those of you wishing to convert, don’t worry. You’re not going to get shot during confession…unless you do it yourself.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Plymouth Rocks

I woke up early Thursday evening just in time to see someone in a red sweater dash into my kitchen.

Burglars, I thought in my semi-conscious state. I’m being robbed!

I gradually became aware of my surroundings. I was stretched out on the floor of my living room like the victim in a Law & Order episode.

I raised my head and saw my auntie sitting on the couch. What was she doing here? And why wasn’t she beating the crap out of that burglar with her purse?

Then I realized it was Thanksgiving Day. That person in the red sweater who had just disappeared into the kitchen wasn’t an armed intruder; she was my sister.

And I had fallen sound asleep in front of my guests.

I’ve never held a Thanksgiving dinner at my home before, but I’m pretty sure that proper etiquette calls for the host to remain conscious for the entire event.

But I was exhausted. I had been fretting about this dinner for weeks and now that I was worry-free, sufficiently stuffed, and only slightly soused, I decided to relax a little.

We had gotten a prepared turkey from the Fairway Market in Red Hook.

The caterer said that all we had to do was pop the little guy into the oven and take him out at the appointed hour, but I was nervous about actually having to cook something after years of dedicated microwaving.

And as soon as I ordered the bird, my mind plummeted straight into the irrational fear zone.

I was going to burn the turkey. The Thanksgiving Eve crowd at Fairway would look like Black Friday at Wal-Marts. My oven would break down. My auntie would miss her bus. Perverted androids from the future would beam into my home and molest the curtains.

“If anything goes wrong,” my auntie sagely suggested, “we’ll laugh.”

Oh, Don’t You Cry For Me

And laugh we did. As it turned out, the turkey was delicious, Fairway was sparsely populated, the oven worked perfectly, my auntie arrived on time, and the degenerate cyborgs from the 23rd Century apparently went to somebody else’s house.

One of my favorite moments of the day came when I stepped outside of my apartment for a few minutes to help my sister carry some stuff from her car. As we came in from the cold, we were greeted by a welcoming wave of warm air filled with the aroma of cooking turkey.

It instantly brought me back to my childhood when we all went to my Aunt Loretta’s place in upper Manhattan. Now this most singular scent was emanating from my own home.

I had another familial flashback during a late-night dishwashing marathon on Wednesday evening.

Whilst taking down the good china that had gone unused for ages, I came across a ceramic asparagus dish.

I flipped it over and read “Susanna 1964”—my mother’s signature from nearly half-a-century ago.

A little background: My mother’s name was Gloria and her middle name was supposed to be Assumpta because she was born on Assumption Day.

However, the doctor who delivered her was not Italian, and thus wrote “Susanna” on her birth certificate.

Now I could’ve chosen to be sad upon seeing this dish and recalling my mother, which would have set me up for one of my world-famous crying routines.

But I elected to be thankful for having our mother in our lives for as a long as we did and I resolved to enjoy the holiday.

If you went solely by population this dinner was much smaller than those family gatherings from days gone by.

Emotionally, though, it was a massive banquet as I thought about the loved ones who were no longer with us, but who were still seated at our table nonetheless.

I think I could into this host business. I already volunteered my place for our Christmas dinner.

I’m going to prepare for good times and merry company. And those perverted androids had better stay away from my drapes.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Prayers of the People

Now I have two more names for the list.

There's a point during the mass at Trinity Church where we say the Prayers of the People, expressing thanks to God and asking for His help with the words “Lord, have mercy.”

We pray for our leaders, for the sick and suffering, the widowed and infirmed, and “for all who have died in the hope of the resurrection, and for all the departed.”

Each of us is then given the opportunity to name loved ones who have passed.

I’m still not accustomed to speaking up in church, but I find it comforting to name my parents, aunts, uncles and others close to me who have left this world.

Last week my family lost my both cousin Mary-Anne and my uncle Walter within the space of a few days. So I’ll be calling their names out in church as well.

I’m sorry to say that I had pretty much lost contact with Mary-Anne and I had not seen my Uncle Walter in years.

But it’s painful to think that they both died just at the start of the holiday season when we emphasize the importance of family and being together.

Walter, my mother’s brother, was a bomber pilot during World War II who went into commercial aviation after the war ended.

One of my fondest memories of Walter is when he showed up at brother’s wedding in Brooklyn many years ago.

Have A Seat

I seem to recall that there was some doubt about his attending, but Walter came walking into church at the appointed time and I remember my father talking about it for days afterward.

Mary-Anne was from my father’s side of the family and I have a dim memory of attending her wedding when I was just a child. One of my uncles took the glass of Champagne that had been placed before me, drained it, and put the empty glass back where it had been.

I still remember the look of shock on my mother’s face when she mistakenly thought that I had guzzled the bubbly.

I hadn’t seen Mary-Anne in nearly 30 years—oh, Good God, could it possibly be that long? We lost the connection with a lot of family members when my Aunt Loretta died.

Loretta, my dad’s sister, used to host huge Thanksgiving dinners at her apartment in upper Manhattan and so many of the people on my father’s side of the family attended.

We lost another connection with the death of my mother, who cooked the Christmas dinners. It seems to me that the older generation was better at keeping in touch and holding on to those family ties.

This year my aunt, my sister, and I will be having Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment. It’s no comparison to Aunt Loretta’s affairs, of course, but we’re family and we'll be together.

I like to think of the afterlife as one big Thanksgiving dinner where we sit down at a huge table with the ones we love from days gone by.

There’ll come a time when I’ll take my seat at that grand feast and sometimes I wonder if anyone will call out my name during the Prayers of the People.

But even if they don’t, I will always be thankful for my family.

Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On the Avenue

I stood outside the shuttered storefront on Fifth Avenue on Friday afternoon and peered through the grating.

The last time I had been here, the place was crammed with all kinds of men’s clothing.

But now it was bone empty, the lights were off, and a notice from the city marshal’s office was taped to the window.

The store's owner had been shot to death last year by some psycho who went on to murder two more shopkeepers before the cops got him.

I had heard the owner’s family was keeping the store open and I wanted to shop there as a personal tribute to a hard-working man who had been cruelly and senselessly killed.

But the place seems to be the latest casualty on Fifth Avenue, my old shopping ground.

I used to live right off the avenue and every Saturday morning I’d go on my weekly shopping expedition, hitting the bank, bagel shop, dry cleaner, and fruit store, before ending up at Picardi’s, a neighborhood butcher.

By the time I got home I was usually staggering under the weight of multiple plastic bags and my arms were stretched out of their sockets.

I started going to other stores after I moved down by Shore Road and my bad back has driven me into the shopping cart generation.

I only live a short distance away, but I barely recognize Fifth Avenue now. Some of the newer stores seem tawdry, peddling junk rather than quality merchandise.

Last One Out…

I stopped by Picardi’s to get some cold cuts and dinner. One of the women who works there cooks these fabulous take-out meals, which are a blessing to a lifelong bachelor who hardly even looks at his oven.

But I’m going to have to go elsewhere for my supper. On the way out, the cashier told me that Picardi’s would be closing by the end of the year.

I couldn’t believe it. This place was something of a landmark in the neighborhood--or at least in the neighborhood I grew up in. But the shop's owner is getting on, as are the customers.

There is a large Arabic population in Bay Ridge, as well, and they all go to halal butchers.

“I’m sure I’ll be in here before December,” I told the cashier, “but if I don’t see you, take care.”

“Nice knowing you,” she replied.

I walked out onto the avenue that was no longer mine. I saw an elderly woman walking toward me and I wondered how much Fifth Avenue had changed since she was young.

Maybe she had started complaining about Bay Ridge going downhill when she was my age. And perhaps my version of the golden age looked like a steep decline to her.

I know change is inevitable and that neighborhoods are in a constant state of upheaval. I just don’t like it when it happens to my neighborhood.

I walked into a new men’s clothing store near my old home and immediately wished I hadn’t. I looked around briefly, but I didn’t see anything I liked and I bailed before anyone could approach me.

It was time to go home. As I headed back toward Shore Road I thought about the old stores that used to line Fifth Avenue. They’re long gone now, but it was nice knowing them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Greatest Barrier

Whenever something bad happens, there’s a part of me that thinks I had it coming.

God is punishing you, I’ll tell myself. God is coming after you for all the bad things you’ve done.

It’s crazy, it’s unhealthy, and yet I still do it.

I’m just getting over another bout with chronic fatigue and, as usual, I made matters worse by getting angry and believing that I had somehow brought this illness upon myself.

You’re so arrogant about staying in shape, I scolded myself, that’s why you’re getting sick.

It’s a dark kind of ego trip, where I believe the Creator of the Universe is gunning for me—like He doesn’t have enough to do already. It’s all about me—as long as it’s bad news.

I got so upset last week that at one particularly low point I sent a desperate plea up to the Almighty.

“Whatever I did,” I said, “I’m sorry.”

Blind apologies usually don’t make much sense or have much value, but then I wasn’t thinking very clearly.

Just a few days later I was listening to a web cast of a service at Trinity Church. Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee was preaching that day and she talked about finding a message written on a welcome card in one of the pews.

“Listen,” she told the congregation. “Listen with the ears of your heart, not just your mind.”

And so I listened as Rev. Mallonee read two simple sentences and my heart nearly cracked in two.

Please don’t let me lose my job,” the message said. “I’m sorry for what I did.

Sending Out An S-O-S…

That’s all. No name, no explanation. It was an anonymous cry for help, like the survivor of a shipwreck putting a message into a bottle and hurling it into the sea.

I have no idea who this person was, but I instantly recognized the mindset, the frantic, illogical belief that connects our misdeeds—real or imagined--to our misfortune.

I would like to know what this person did—or, more importantly, what he or she thinks they did that was so terrible. I know from personal experience that we often believe we’ve committed the most heinous deeds only to find that the rest of the world doesn't see it that way.

I don’t know why bad things happen in this life, but I refuse to believe that they are some kind of divine retribution.

I don’t see God as a heavenly accountant, moving our lives around like beads on a universal abacus, determined to make sure everything adds up.

But fear can conjure up all kinds of irrational beliefs. It's just easier to spot them in other people rather than in ourselves.

After reading the card to the congregation, Rev. Mallonee spoke directly to the author of the message.

“Whoever you are,” she said, “blessed are you for you admit your failure. Blessed are you for you are free from the greatest barrier that humans put up between us and God’s mercy…human pride.”

She added “if you keep this attitude of total supplication and openness, God will bring you through it.”

I hope this person doesn't lose his or her job. And I truly hope he or she comes to terms with whatever they supposedly did.

If you can somehow make up for it, then do so as quickly as possible. If you can’t, then believe you have been forgiven and climb over this barrier.

I’ll see you in church.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Long Run

I high-fived the whole world today and then took a walk through time.

The New York Marathon charged through the five boroughs today and once again I joined my sister to watch more than 50,000 runners race down Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge on their way to the finish line in Central Park.

I can’t believe I almost didn’t go this year. I seriously thought about staying home and looking through the Sunday Times while athletes from every corner of the earth were running just a few blocks from my house.

Luckily my sister called last night and inspired me to get off my butt and away from the Sunday papers.

I slapped palms with so many runners today my hand went numb—and I didn’t care.

It was worth the momentary sting to connect with such a diverse group of people.

We marathon spectators are really ambassadors for a day, representing our city and our country to throngs of speeding visitors.

“Thank you,” one woman said to me as our hands connected.

“Thank you,” I replied.

This year’s event is especially poignant, since Hurricane Sandy scrubbed last year’s event and the country was rocked by the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

We started getting cold and my sister suggested we swing by our old home, which was less than two blocks away. I haven’t been down that street in so long and I wondered what the new owners had done with the house, which we sold two years ago this month.

I was also hoping to see some of my former neighbors, including the old Chinese lady who lived next door to us for so many years.

I always refer to her as “my buddy” because that’s what she is—my buddy, my friend, a sweet, lovely person who means the world to me even though neither one of us can understand what the other is saying.

She was always after me to get the garbage out on the proper days and insisted on carrying the empty trashcans into my backyard even though I was standing right next to her.

I’ve been worried about her because she’d had open-heart surgery a few years back and I was hoping she was all right.

Miles Away

There didn’t appear to be anyone at our house today.

Most of the people on our block now are Chinese, including the owners of our house. And, like a lot of other people on the block, the new owners have replaced the small steps leading to our front door with a massive brick staircase.

There was also new front and side doors and what appeared to be a huge air conditioning unit on the side of the building.

I thought I would be devastated to see anyone else living in the place where I grew up. And I figured I’d be outraged if someone dared to make any kind of changes to my ancestral home.

But standing out on the sidwalk with my sister, I realized that it didn’t bother me to see the place occupied by new people and I wasn’t at all fazed by the alterations.

I carry the memories of my time there in my heart wherever I go; they’re not bound to any piece of property.

I was hoping we’d somehow magically run into my buddy next door and my sister came up with the brilliant idea of ringing her doorbell.

We did that very thing, her husband answered the door, and my sister flagged down a woman walking by and asked her to act as a translator.

Then my buddy came out. It was so great to see her after more than two years. She and her husband are in my parents’ general age bracket, so seeing them makes me think of my mom and dad.

I gave her a big hug and a kiss and told her I missed her, language barrier be damned. I know she understood me.

They very kindly invited us inside but the conversation was understandably brief and we left a short time later.

I’m thankful that we got to see my buddy again. And I can finally accept that the house on Senator Street no longer belongs to us.

Like marathon runners, we see many memorable things on our journey through life, but we must keep on going until we finish the race.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Wind and Sirens

All I can hear is the wind and sirens.

And so began a blog entry I wrote a year ago when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New York area. While I had electricity that night, the storm had taken out my television, telephone, and Internet connection.

I am writing a post that no one can read,” I wrote. “I’d be completely off the grid if it weren’t for the cell phone and the radio. So I guess they weren’t kidding….

I’m writing this on an unusually warm autumn day. But things were different a year ago.

The winds are wailing all around my house. From my third floor window I can see the tops of the trees being whipped from side to side. Hurricane Sandy has arrived and she is stomping all over this corner of the world.

I was going through another one of my back episodes at the time and could hardly walk. While I was accustomed to being stuck in my house, I wrote that the hurricane “makes me feel even more cut off.”

I have to write because there’s nothing else to do.

I wrote about feeling old and isolated, about being stranded. I went on about how I had a million things to do, “but the weather and my physical condition have pushed me into a corner.”

I had no idea that so many people were dying that night; that so many people were losing their homes and all their possessions. It was like I was in bathysphere sunk deep into a black ocean.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was, that losing my cable service for 12 days was nothing compared with what so many others were going through. Yet looking back at my post-storm entries, I devoted so much space to complaining about not being able to watch TV or screw around on the web.

I’m sorry I reacted so foolishly. Being cut off from the world, I didn’t appreciate how people had suffered and, in fact, continue to suffer. I wish I could’ve been more grateful for coming through such a nightmare unscathed. I’d like to think I learned something.

I truly see how much time I waste on the web,” I wrote in my unseen entry. “I’ve been tempted several times during the writing of this post to check my email list or Facebook or any number of news sites. It’s time to recharge my vow to spend more time writing and less time surfing.

That vow still needs work. I can feel my attention span crumbling as I flit from one website to another each night. How much of this alleged “information” do I retain? And what good is any of it when disaster strikes?

Today is All Saint’s Day. I had the day off, so I watched the lunchtime service at Trinity Church on the Internet.

“God is counting on you to be holy,” Rev. Mark told the congregation. “God wants you to be blessed and to be a blessing for others. God wants you to be a saint.”

I’m a long way from being a saint, to put it mildly, but I think being thankful for what I have is a step in the right direction.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gnome of the Brave

Victoria had it all planned.

My 18-year-old niece called me from Colorado recently to tell me what I would be wearing for Halloween this year. As usual with Victoria, I have no say in the matter.

“You’re going to be a garden gnome,” she said.

Yes, that’s right, my brother Jim’s daughter didn’t see me as a pirate or one of those sexy vampire types I keep hearing about.

No, she had decided that I should go out in public dressed like some mythic subterranean creature with severe wardrobe issues.

“A gnome?” I demanded. “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Victoria said. “All the women will love it.”

“With my luck the only thing I’ll attract will be female gnomes,” I shouted.

I should probably pause here to mention that this would be a distinct improvement over my current dating status--but I still ain’t doing it.

“No,” my niece insisted. “They’ll look at you and say, ‘wow, this guy dresses up like a gnome. There must be something to this guy.’”

Yeah, he’s a mental case!

“Why don’t I just let you take over my love life entirely?” I asked with a heavy dollop of sarcasm.

“You should,” Victoria said. “Women will think you’re so cool and then you can thank me.”

Oh, sure. There’s nothing I’d like more than having a teenager call the shots on my relationships—or the lack of them. I told Victoria she should try writing an advice column for the lovelorn.

“I would be the best Dear Abby ever,” she assured me.

Of course she would. She’d have all her readers dressing like gnomes in no time at all.

Gnome Sick

This latest conversation played out like most of my other phone chats with Victoria, with me laughing until I choke and repeatedly crying to the heavens, “what’s wrong with this kid?”

It’s hard to believe that this is the same person who once sat on my knee and laughed at all my silly routines. Now she and her cousin, Kristin, both run rings around me. And I absolutely love it.

Victoria actually wanted the entire family—including my auntie—to dress up like gnomes this year, which makes sense because, as we all know, gnome is where the heart is.

But the idea made me think of those creepy family portraits that have been polluting the web lately and I strongly suggested we skip it.

To be honest, I’m really not a big fan of Halloween. If you’re into dressing up in a costume, by all means, go forth and knock yourself out.

I’ve really enjoyed some of the creative outfits I’ve seen over the years. Honestly, I’m not an Ebenezer Weenie. It’s just not for me.

But, more importantly, I’ve been feeling lousy all week with some kind of bug that has sapped the energy out of my body like Count Dracula coming off a seven-year hunger strike.

I’ve got the chills, a stuffed head, and a severe case of the crazies. And I’m so exhausted that the only character I’ll be playing this year will be Rip Van Winkle.

However Victoria has decreed that I will dress as a gnome, Halloween or not, and she will not be deterred. Her bedroom has this forest theme going on and she tells me that when I come out to visit, I’ll have to don a gnome hat and pose for a photo.

“That’s totally happening,” she declared. “You can’t escape your fate!”

Fair enough. And, speaking of fate, Victoria has already decided upon next year’s Halloween family theme.

She wants all of us, yes, all of us, to dress up like the Village People.

Okay, so I call dibs on the Cowboy. And now it’s time to rehearse my moves: “Y-M-C-A, it’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A…”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pocket's Red Glare

I really thought I was going to need that toothbrush.

I had to dump the contents of my pockets into a tray on Saturday, but I didn’t do it for Homeland Security.

I did it for art.

I had joined other members of the Meetup group “Everything Brooklyn” to attend the annual Gowanus Open Studios event in Park Slope.

We hiked in and around old warehouses in Park Slope that have been converted into art studios.

One of the artists, Joana Ricou, was working on a fantastic project where she asked people to take whatever they had out of their pockets, put it all in a tray, and allow her to photograph it.

Joana explained that the contents of our pockets tell us who we are at a given moment in time. The photos are a freeze frame of our lives, particularly in this age of the smart phone, where we carry personal computers packed with all our vital information.

I usually leave my house with my front pockets brimming with all manner of stuff—bloated wallet, I-phone, house keys, and a business card holder that also contains my parents’ prayer cards as well as one for Mary, the woman who took care of my dad up until his death.

Mary’s card is inscribed with “The Prayer of St. Francis,” my choice for the most beautiful prayer ever, and I like to keep it handy.

On this day I also was carrying a traveler’s toothbrush. I had thought that perhaps I’d go to a story-telling show in Manhattan after the art tour and, if so, I intended to stop at one of the New York Sports Club’s outlets to take to a sauna, a shower, and brush the old chompers.

What can I say? I wasn’t a Boy Scout for very long, but I do like to be prepared.

I stepped back when the call for volunteers went out. I wasn’t going to allow someone to take a mug shot of all this personal material so total strangers could gawk and snicker at it.

But the concept fascinated me; it’s so simple, yet so brilliant. What we carry says so much about us that I thought I might learn something if I joined in.

Personal Defects

One of the people in our group went first and, annoyed at myself for holding back, I stepped up behind him and grabbed an empty tray.

“I might need two of these,” I said.

I must say it took a while to dig out all of my possessions. I thought I heard somebody chuckle when I removed the toothbrush, but it didn’t bother me. I wanted to share.

I told Joana about the prayer cards and she plucked Mary’s out of the folder and set it on top of the pile so the camera could capture it.

Then I stepped back and I looked at my life in a tray. Jesus, the only things missing here were a pack of condoms and a flare gun.

Clearly I don’t like to be caught short, and I’m a virtual slave to my dad’s rule of “better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

My life often feels as crammed as my pockets. Before meeting up with the group on Saturday afternoon, I had gone to my gym, dry cleaners and fruit store. And I seriously thought I’d go to another event in Manhattan? Ultimately, I scraped that last bit, deciding that the day had been long enough.

I felt strange looking at my all stuff; it was liberating in a way, a kind of out-of-body experience. I belonged to no one.

Yes, at the moment I had no identity, no way of calling the outside world, and no place to live. But I also felt free to be somebody else—or a better version of who I am now.

I could be someone who is not so cautious and uptight. I could stop obsessing about planning things and actually start doing them. Even my parents’ prayer cards, which mean so much to me, are symbols of the love that I carry for them in my heart every waking moment.

I had a sudden flashback to Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” a short story I read as a freshman at Brooklyn Tech in 1971 and which I probably haven’t thought about since.

The story concerns a young man who risks his life to retrieve an important business document that has blown out the window of his high rise apartment and come to rest on a ledge.

The guy gets into some very serious trouble and at one point he wonders what people will think when they scrape his corpse from the sidewalk and look through his pockets.

All of a sudden that vitally important document wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Joana’s project really got me thinking, which is the greatest compliment I can pay to any artist. Thanks to her I was recalling my past, examining my present and reconsidering my future.

I gathered up my belongings and made way for another one of my companions to take the plunge. My pockets were full again, but nothing could weigh me down.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hell, D’oh!

Maybe I should’ve stuck with the hamsters.

I left my office in lower Manhattan on Friday night and walked right into the middle of an animal act.

A man was setting up a series of boxes at the corner of Broadway and Cortland Street and unpacking a portable petting zoo.

There was a line of hamsters crammed on top of one box and a cat on leash crouching before a bucket of dollar bills.

I don’t know what this man was planning to do, but I don’t care for animal shows.

If you need to make other creatures perform so you can feel superior, well, then we all know who the truly inferior animal is, don’t we?

Besides, I was due uptown at Playwrights Horizons, where I was taking in a new show called Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.

I had recently bought a subscription for the company’s 2013-2014 season and I was looking forward to seeing the first show. So I left the hamster man and jumped on the E train for 42nd Street.

There’s no place on earth like Times Square on a Friday night. The energy surging through the area is phenomenal. Within these few blocks you’ll find everything I absolutely love and thoroughly hate about New York.

There’s culture side by side with sleaze. In the boisterous crowds you’ll see gaping tourists, hustling street people and sophisticated theatergoers. There are fabulous restaurants, fast food joints, and falafel stands.

In a sense, the show really started the minute I got off the subway.

I was alone, but then didn’t bother me too much. I love the theater and I usually strike up a conversation with the people seated around me. And that’s what happened on this night as soon as I sat down. Theater people just like to talk to each other.

Okay, so I had a prime seat, excellent company, and I was in the greatest city in the world. I was in a very good mood.
And then the play started.

Curtain Rises

You know, I hate to be a nit-picky pain in the wazoo, but I have to say that Mr. Burns really didn’t do it for me.

The play shows how pop culture becomes the stuff of mythology as humanity struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

The first act, which is the best, has survivors sitting around a fire retelling episodes of The Simpsons. The atmosphere is charged as the characters quiz a stranger about the state of other cities and the whereabouts of missing loved ones.

If only they had stopped there. Unfortunately, the story turns farcical, with groups of survivors performing episodes of the long-running animated series until finally, some 75 years later, the material has been mutated into a kind of grand opera.

Science fiction writers have been addressing similar themes for years and the playwright didn’t add much to the mix. She may have had a point, but she insisted upon making it with a sledgehammer.

The final act was excruciating and I actually felt sorry for the actors, who were all excellent. I sincerely hope they get better gigs out of this show.

The fact that Ben Brantley from the New York Times raved about this show should have been a warning. This was the same man who had swooned over the current revival of The Glass Menagerie that left my sister and I decidedly cold.

Maybe Mr. Brantley could review the animal show on Cortland Street. He’d probably gush on about that, too.

I’ve always said that going to the theater is a tremendous experience, no matter what the quality of the play.

Mr. Burns severely tested that belief, but I still haven’t changed my position. Theater is a miracle with an intermission.

After the show, I walked right up 42nd Street to get to my train and Times Square was just as crazy as ever.

I toyed with the idea of stopping by the Times and giving Ben Brantley a piece of my mind, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten through security. And the man has a right to his opinion, no matter demented it may be.

I made great connections on the subway and got back to Brooklyn in record time. Despite my disappointment with the play, I was happier than a box full of hamsters.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Into The Woods

Every Sunday I like to sit down and read the New York Daily News “Justice Story” column.

As a former police reporter and perspiring writer, I enjoy these old time stories of crime and punishment.

After five years of chasing police cars and fire engines, being cursed at by lowlifes, and harassing victims’ families at the worst hour of their lives, it’s nice to sit on my rear end and enjoy all manner of mayhem without having to report on it.

I’m cover accounting now, and while it’s nothing like police reporting, I get to work a normal schedule and I don’t have to fly out the door in the pursuit of havoc every time the police scanner squawks.

Last week I was reading a Justice Story about Carl Gugasian, aka “The Friday Night Bank Robber,” a one-man crime wave who, over the course of nearly 30 years, had knocked over a series of banks from New England to Virginia.

This guy hit his intended targets like a commando taking down a terrorist cell. He meticulously planned his robberies, always wore elaborate disguises, and earned his moniker by sticking up banks on Fridays just before closing time.

The article said Gugasian pulled a number of jobs in Pennsylvania and instead of using a getaway car, Mr. Friday Night would rob banks located near forests so he run into the woods and vanish.

And that’s when I sat up in my chair.

“Hey,” I said to my computer screen, “I know that son-of-a-bitch!”

Of course, I don’t actually know the guy, but I did cover a bank robbery in the Poconos that bore all the signs of Gugasian job.

It was a rainy day—possibly a Friday—sometime in the 1990s, and I was recovering from a nasty bout with the flu. I was sitting at my desk praying to God for a quiet day at the office. But about an hour into my shift the scanner lit up with a call for an armed robbery in Mountainhome. And off I went.

The bank was sealed up tight, standard procedure for a hold-up, and there were cops all over the place. Some state troopers I knew were heading into the woods where the gunman had run and I fell in right behind them.

“Where are you going?” one of the troopers said in mock outrage.

This was part of the usual razzing I had to come expect from these guys.

Crime Scene

Sgt. Mike Chaplin, the commander of the Swiftwater barracks at the time, once told me that cops only break your balls if they like you. If they don’t like you, they just don’t talk to you.

The ground and bushes were soaking wet and I thought, great, I’m just back at work and now I’m risking a bout of pneumonia.

I’ve had a lot of trouble with my health over the years and as I stomped into the woods with rainwater in my socks, I wondered if maybe the stress of covering crime was too much for me.

Perhaps I should stick to town meetings, or even get out of reporting all together.

But then I looked around at all the cops, felt this surge of adrenalin charge through me as I trailed an honest-to-God bank robber, and I thought, no, whatever’s running down my immune system, it wasn’t police reporting. I loved this stuff too much.

I ran back to the bank and hit the mother lode of information when I found an actual eyewitness to the robbery. This man had planned a day of golf with his buddies and stopped off at the bank so he could pick up some cash.

“I walked into the bank,” he told me. “And everybody has their hands in the air.”

Then he turned, saw a masked standing behind the door pointing a gun at him, and raised his hands, too.

The golfing buddies actually chased the gunman into the forest—something you really shouldn’t do—and they saw him throw a handful of cash in one direction and run in the other in hopes of throwing off his pursers. But they kept on his tail.

“Then he slowed down,” the golfer told me, “turned and pointed the gun at us. That’s when we stopped chasing him.”

I was tripping at this point. Page One story, complete with fabulous quotes—fuck the flu!

My heart sank when a local TV truck pull up. They were going to interview my witnesses—reporters are so possessive—and go on the air that evening while I couldn't get my story out to the next day.

I knew the TV cameraman, who was a very nice guy, but not a reporter. His job was to get footage for the show to run with the news copy.

“What’s going on?” he asked me.

“Oh, not much,” I said, my stomach in knots. “Just waiting on the cops.”

The cameraman got his footage, left without talking to the witnesses, and I was able to breath again. I know it wasn’t nice, but this is a tough racket. And I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell him about the great material I had just gathered. Sorry, dude.

Wanted Man

Mike Chaplin was my best source ever. He would always tell me a ton of details just to give me a better understanding of a story.

In this case, he told me that the guy was a suspect in at least two other area bank robberies, including one where a bank employee was shot. But he asked me to keep that out of the paper.

“We don’t want him to know what we know,” he said.

The suspect wasn’t caught that day despite an intense manhunt.

I eventually moved on to business writing and Mike Chaplin retired and moved to Florida to get into the aviation business.

Carl Gugasian evaded the law for roughly 10 more years before some kids in suburban Philadelphia found a length of pipe buried in the woods that contained guns, ammunition, masks, maps, and a list of potential bank targets.

It was April Fool’s Day, 2001.

I decided to email Mike a copy of the Daily News story. We hadn’t communicated in a long time and I figured he’d get a kick out it. He remembered the gunman’s profile instantly, though not this particular job.

And then he said something that absolutely made my day.

I have to tell you, I love flying,” he wrote. "I have a great business but I really miss catching the ‘perps.’ And I really miss working with you. We were a helluva team... I miss you, Buddy.

Same here, brother, and I’m happy to know that I’m not the only one who has fond memories of that grief. And for the record we were indeed a helluva team.

I am thankful beyond description for my current job, but I have to admit that, on occasion, I do miss the sound of sirens, the smell of smoke, and the thrill of chasing cops in the rain.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Picture This

Oh, come on now.

Look, I know I’ll never be mistaken for Brad Pitt, but I can’t possibly be as ugly as this temporary office ID photo makes me out to be.

I left my ID badge at home the other day and was forced to go through the ritual of posing for a temporary badge like a purse-snatcher being booked at a police station.

This was the second time in six months that I've done this and I’m not sure if it’s a subconscious statement about my job, a sign of creeping dementia, or both.

Whatever the reason, I can assure you that it’s a swift pain in the caboose.

I think I handled things better this time around, or at least I was handling them better until I looked down at the ID photo and came face-to-face with an absolute freak of nature.

Are you kidding me? I looked like an extra from The Walking Dead, for God’s sake.

My head sits on my shoulders like a rotting pumpkin and for some reason I’m looking up to the ceiling as if the roof is about to come crashing down on me.

If I could make a mask out of this face I’d sell it at Halloween and retire to the Cayman Islands.

Parents could scare their kids into eating their veggies by showing them this photo and saying “finish your greens or you’ll look like this!”

The funny thing is that I had just recently found someone else’s ID photo on a utility box in the Fulton Street subway station.

I Was Here, But Now I'm Gone...

Willbaldo—I’ll keep his last name to myself—had apparently been working as something called a “default receptionist” at a bank in the World Financial Center. And, through no default of his own, he got stuck with a terrible photo.

He appears to be in his twenties. He’s standing in the lobby of an office building with his eyes closed as the camera captures him in mid-blink and he looks like he’s sleepwalking or waiting for the Rapture.

I have this fascination with discarded photographs. They’re frozen moments in a stranger’s life, a small sign that we really are individuals with unique stories even though most days we may feel like ants in a massive colony.

I wonder what Willbaldo’s story is.
Does he still work at the bank or is he pounding the pavement in search of another job?

Is he married with children or does he live alone in some barren apartment? Is he happy?

Wouldn’t it be something if I could just slap on Willbaldo’s ID sticker and immediately know everything about him?

Imagine if we could all switch identities so easily, instantly know everyone else’s joys, secrets, and fears. The ID photo could be a kind of spiritual flash drive that allows us to walk a mile in another man's soul.

We might finally stop killing each other.

Willbaldo probably didn’t want to wear that awful picture any longer than he had to and got tired of being somebody else’s property. Perhaps that’s why I left ID badge home.

My mom always scolded me whenever I picked up stuff from the street, but it didn’t seem right to leave Willbaldo’s picture just sitting there. So I slipped a New York Times newspaper bag over my hand like a CSI, scooped it up, and brought it home.

I’ll probably keep Willbaldo’s photo for a while and get used to seeing it around my desk. Then one day I’ll pick the thing up as if I’ve never seen it before and ask “what the hell am I doing with this?”

And Willbaldo’s cut-rate portrait will go into the trash like it was meant to all along. But until then I’m going to hold onto this fragment of his life and imagine what I might see if I could look at the world through his eyes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

To Amend My Life

Most mornings I like to listen to a recording of a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness called “ho'oponopono” that focuses on clearing the spirit of anger and other toxic emotions.

The 10-minute session that I listen to merely repeats four simple phrases: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. And I thank you.”

It may not sound like much, but this mantra can have great cleansing power.

The apology can be directed at anyone or anything--the universe, deceased loved ones, even ourselves, because God knows so much of our pain is self-inflicted.

I had an opportunity to apply that practice to a real world situation last week.

I got into an email beef with a co-worker on Thursday that turned quite ugly in a matter of minutes. I was having a bad day, to put it mildly, but that doesn’t excuse my obnoxious behavior.

It started off with some snippy remarks and got more atrocious with each reply.

That’s one of the reasons I hate email—that and the Nigerian bank scams. People often read something into those voiceless words that just isn’t there and respond inappropriately.

I normally reach for the phone or speak to someone face-to-face in potentially hostile situations so I can avoid any misunderstandings—which is what I should’ve done in this case.

But instead I let a minor disagreement get out of hand until my colleague and I weren’t speaking to each other.

I’m disappointed that I overreacted, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I recognized my mistake a lot sooner than I would have in the past.

Not too long ago I would’ve been furious for the entire day and into the evening. I would've stuck to my guns, furious that anyone would dare talk to me like that.

Mark As Urgent

But it was different now. In the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, there was a great disturbance in the Force.

I felt like I was carrying a cinderblock around in my chest and I knew there was only one way to relieve my discomfort, so I sat down at my desk and typed the two most important words in the English or any other language.

“I’m sorry.”

I kept wanting to say “I’m sorry, but—”

But I was tired; but I was busy; but I had a lot on my mind. But whatever lame excuse I could come up with. But no, I refused to do that.

“But” robs the apology of its healing power and leaves a little bit of the argument alive so it can fester and spring up again on some other day.

As my father used to say “but me not buts,” which was his way of saying “I don’t want to hear it.”

I hit the “send” button and immediately felt much better. My co-worker hadn’t responded, hadn’t even read my email yet, but it didn’t matter. I had done my best to make things right.

I didn’t feel like I was backing down, giving ground, wimping out or any of the other idiotic expressions that emotionally damaged losers like to throw around.

I was trying to repair damage, dispel bad feelings, and restore a wounded friendship.

And I actually felt empowered. I was trying to change the awful course of the last few minutes and set a healthy relationship right.

There was a chance my co-worker might not accept my apology and not want to be friends anymore.

I knew I would feel very badly if that turned out to be the case, but at least I had tried.

A short time after I sent the email my co-worker wrote back to me apologizing for her behavior. I felt great.

The cinderblock had vanished from my chest and I was able to enjoy the rest of the day, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Muchas Gracias

I made some smart investments in the last few weeks and I must say they’ve really paid off.

This had nothing to do with the stock market. I was working in the area of human capital and all I did was send a simple message: Thank you.

That’s it. I just expressed gratitude to people who had helped me out and in return I was rewarded with a chronic attack of the warm and fuzzies.

My first acknowledgement went to Ronit Keith, general manager of the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Toronto where I stayed earlier this month.

I simply told her the truth, which was that I was impressed by the courtesy and professionalism of her staff.

I know that’s their job—it is the hospitality industry, after all—but I felt that these people were particularly hospitable.

I’ve been in too many situations where the “help” is anything but helpful. And I find I’m quick to complain but not nearly as fast to compliment.

I wanted to change that, so I took five minutes to shoot Ms. Keith an email and got a response the next morning.

“I am thrilled to get your note and thank you for taking the time to let me know,” she wrote. “I have already shared it with my team! You’ve made our day!”

And her email, in turn, made my day.

Next up was Rev. Will Ingram at St. Andrew’s Church in Toronto. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was riding by the church on the way to Niagara Falls when I noticed the sign outside the church saying “Remember this day that you are loved.”

Safe and Sound

Those were just the right words at just the right moment. I wrote Rev. Ingram an email to say how the message had comforted me and to share my 9/11 post. I received a very nice response and made a Facebook buddy to boot.

I was in such a good mood that I even wrote a nice email to my bank.

I had a received a call from Kevin Reynolds, an executive at the JPMorgan Chase’s Water Street branch, who told me that a customer had found my debit card on the floor of the bank and turned it over to his staff.

I nearly keeled over. I never lose my debit card. I always put it back in my wallet after I use it. How could this have happened?

Well, it happened pretty easily. I had been in that branch earlier in the day after stopping by a nearby Verizon store to pick up my iPhone 4.

I was talking on the phone when I walked into the bank and I started experiencing some pretty serious buyer's remorse.

This thing is too expensive, I’ll never use most of the apps, and what the hell am I doing with a smart phone when I can barely work the DVR?

I was so thoroughly distracted that I managed to drop my debit card and not even notice.

After meeting and thanking Mr. Reynolds, I thought about writing a note to the branch manager, but then I decided to go right to the to the top and tapped out a note to Jamie Dimon, Chase’s chairman, president and CEO.

Again, I just told the truth and I got a nice note from a woman on Mr. Dimon’s staff.

“We received your note and appreciate that you took the time to recognize Kevin Reynolds,” she wrote. “We are pleased that Kevin helped you with the responsive and efficient customer serve that you deserve. We will thank Kevin for his efforts.”

So there you have it. Three brief emails yielded enormous returns in good will.

I may not know much about bulls and bears, but I think I can teach Wall Street a thing or two about striking it rich.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bullet Points

Brace yourself for a shock.

There were two mass shootings in America this week.

Astounding, isn’t it? Mass shootings in the USA. I still can't believe it. We're such a peace-loving people. Or is that "piece-loving"?

First, we had a deranged man shoot 12 people to death in the Washington Navy Yard.

Then 13 people were shot in Chicago after a gunman with a military-grade assault rifle opened fire on a pickup basketball game.

One of the victims in the Chicago case included a three-year-old boy, proving that you’re never too young to take a bullet.

How is this possible? I mean, it’s not like we ever had anything like this ever happened before in this country.

We never had a psychopath shoot his way into a school and mow down innocent grade-schoolers and their teachers. We never had a nutbag walk into a dark theater and start shooting into the crowd.

And we never, ever have anyone shoot up an army base…or a shopping mall…or a church…or a Sikh temple..or a college campus.

No, the attacks in Washington and Chicago were a complete surprise and we had absolutely no way of predicting anything like this would ever take place in this sweet land of liberty.

But now that they have happened, now that we have all these dead and wounded people, I feel secure in the knowledge that our political leaders will take swift, appropriate action.

I have no doubt in my mind that the people in congress will put aside their political differences and work with the president to pass more stringent gun laws so we can at least minimize the chance of this kind of thing ever happening again.

I know they will act because they care about LIFE. Not “life,” mind you, but LIFE. They say it with the block letters because that proves how much they CARE.

They're always shrieking bloody blue murder about the fate of fetuses. Surely these God-fearing patriots will show the same concern about what goes on outside the womb so we won’t suffer through the candlelight vigils, and the images of victims’ friends and families sobbing in each others’ arms.

We won’t have to hear about the decent family people whose lives were brutally and needlessly snuffed out. No, we’re going to fix all that.

Oh, yes, I sure am proud to be an American.

Hollow Head

Honestly, I don’t know what to say anymore. All I can do is repeat what I've said for the last seven or so mass shootings: nothing will change and it'll happen again.

I'm getting numb to this insanity. Mass shootings are becoming a part of the evening news like baseball scores and weather reports.

I feel like I’m living in the middle of a vast shooting gallery. Any twisted son-of-a-bitch with a bug up his ass can blow away dozens of people and we don't do jumping jack shit about it.

For all their chest-thumping about LIFE, a lot of people in this country don’t seem to be troubled by all these DEATHS from gun violence.

Naturally, the gun lobby is trotting out the usual bumper sticker arguments about the Founding Fathers.

They’re spewing their rancid cliches about people killing people and only outlaws having guns.

They’ll blame computer games and movies, even though other countries with access to the same forms of entertainment don’t have the plague of mass shootings that we have.

They're saying it's really a mental health issue and jizzing their pants as their whores in congress gleefully slash healthcare funding.

They’re blaming everything but the guns. And they’re saying we need more guns, yes, even more guns, to protect ourselves.

That worked out so well in Michigan this week where two men literally shot each other to death in a road rage incident.

Both men had valid licenses to carry concealed weapons. And both men are now quite dead.

And the navy yard shooter may have started things off with a shotgun, but he then took a security guard's handgun to kill even more people. That doesn't really do much for the "good guy with a gun" argument.

But maybe the gun advocates are right. Maybe we should arm teachers and custodians and cab drivers and dentists and gynecologists and carpet cleaners.

Maybe we should find a way to arm fetuses so that when kids are born they can come flying out of their mothers va-jay-jays with both guns blazing.

Maybe then we’ll be safe.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Road Show

The MTA is taking its act above ground.

During my many years of commuting, I have often seen talented musicians and some memorable characters when I ride the subways.

However, I do most of my traveling on the express bus now, where I don’t get any such entertainment or aggravation.

That changed on Saturday, though, as my sister and I were Broadway bound to see a play and were treated to an unexpected warm-up act.

We met on the X27 bus at around noon to see a new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

The show stars Cherry Jones, a fine actress whom we’ve seen several times, and Zachery Quinto, the new Mr. Spock in the Star Trek reboot.

When the bus pulled into a stop on 69th Street, a rather haggard young man lurched aboard and climbed over some poor woman seated in front of us so he could sit by the window.

We were getting a distinct odor of alcohol as we turned onto Third Avenue and the man was mumbling incoherently to the unfortunate lady next to him. And then he raised his voice so everybody onboard could hear him.

“Is this the bus to Atlantic City?”

We paused a second before informing this man that, uh, no, this was most definitely not the bus to Atlantic City. He wasn’t even close.

I know this isn’t funny, but I wonder just how drunk, how wasted, how incredibly polluted do you have to be in order to mistake an MTA bus for the ride to the Boardwalk Empire?

“You have to get off,” the woman sitting next to him said. “You have to get off now.”

The man stumbled to the door, where he stopped to speak with the bus driver, the other passengers and probably a few pink elephants.

The driver politely but firmly informed him that he was holding up the bus, but our would-be high roller had one more thing to share with us.

Just a stranger on the bus

“What did the ocean say to the shore?” he asked.

“What?” we all responded.

“Nothing, just waved,” he said.

And with that he shambled down the steps. Perhaps he was a comedian on his way to do a set. Whoever he was, the last I saw of him he was standing outside on the sidewalk blowing kisses at the bus.

We made it to Manhattan without further incident and took our seats at the Booth Theater. We had a nice view of the stage and fortunately the two ladies seated in front of us were quite petite.

But our luck did not extend to our own row as my sister was cursed to be sitting next to a woman who coughed as if she had just crawled out of a coal mine.

This person hacked and wheezed during the entire production. I like to dress up for the theater, but I had no idea I would need a Hazmat suit.

I know it’s not this woman’s fault, and I’ve had plenty of problems with my health over the years, but she was actually drowning out the actors on stage as she spewed her germs hither and yon.

I offered to switch seats with my sister, which ain’t easy for a card-carrying hypochondriac, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
I was starting to miss our express bus buddy. Maybe we could hitch a ride to AC and catch his act—assuming he hadn’t fallen the into the ocean, of course.

By the second act my sister could take no more and we moved over to two empty seats in our row. At least we had something of a buffer zone.

As for the production itself, well, that was a bit of a disappointment.

Some of the actors didn’t seem comfortable in their roles and the director made some odd decisions that included having one character emerge from and disappear into a sofa like some kind of second rate magician’s trick.

Maybe we were in Atlantic City.

I love The Glass Menagerie and I believe it endures because the characters are so memorable.

But directors can employ too much trickery when staging the classics in a bid to make their work stand out. Unfortunately, they can also smother a play’s passion in the process.

After the show ended, my sister and I escaped from Typhoid Mary and dashed over to Trattoria Dopo Teatro for some delicious food, family nostalgia and plenty of laughs.

Our ride home was nowhere near as eventful as the trip in, but I’m happy to report that there were no swamp fever victims on board our bus either.

And to top it off, the Metrocard reader was busted so we got a free ride and a few extra bucks in our pockets.

I can almost hear those nickel slots calling my name…

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remember This Day

I stood outside the Brooks Brothers store on Liberty Plaza this morning and said a silent prayer.

I’ve been doing this little ceremony every year on September 11 since the planes crashed into the World Trade Center 12 years ago.

There’s some scaffolding outside the store obscuring the view of the Freedom Towers site, but I have no trouble recalling that beautiful late summer day in 2001 when I stood in the same spot as a jet slammed into the opposite side of the South Tower and sent a massive sheet of orange flame billowing across the street.

I can still hear that plane streak through the air in the seconds before impact and the screams of the people around me as we saw the world we thought we knew come to a horrifying end.

We all ran, ran like rats, terrified that we were going to be killed any second. People cried and screamed up to the heavens for mercy. Nobody knew what the hell was going on, why we were being attacked.

I remember taking refuge in a senior’s home near the Manhattan Bridge as the monstrous dust cloud from the fallen South Tower made seeing and breathing next to impossible.

It would soon be followed by another blinding wave of debris when the North Tower collapsed.

“This is a part of history,” an elderly man said to one of the women living at the center.

“I don’t know what to be part of history,” the woman replied.

Neither did I. And I still don’t. I would give anything to undo that nightmare, to rewire history so the planes never crashed, the towers never fell, and all those innocent people never died.

I wish I could delete the memory of that walk over the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of other refugees while fighter jets streaked through the sky over our heads. I would gladly eliminate that feeling of terror and vulnerability as I wondered if more suicide attackers were heading our way.

I want to live in the pre-9/11 world where I never worried about being annihilated, where I didn’t have to take off my shoes, belt, and jacket whenever I wanted to board an airplane. I want to go back to the time when I didn’t know that these psychotics who could so callously slaughter innocent people even existed.

That’s all impossible, of course. We’re all part of history whether we like it or not.

“…and ye shall be my witnesses…”

I wonder what happened to some of the many people I met that day.

There was a Japanese man who was so horrified by what he had seen that he could barely function. I had to take him by the hand and lead him around like a child.

I finally left him with the super at an office building on Water Street. He was so far from home; I hope he made it back to his family.

I think about the people whom I walked across the bridge with—one lady said she kept an eye on my hairless head so she wouldn’t lose track of me—where is she today?

There was an attorney, who had come into Manhattan from Long Island for just this one day, whom I guided to the LIRR Station at Atlantic Avenue. I never saw her again but we exchanged emails for several years on the anniversary.

There were people on the Brooklyn side of the bridge who offered us bottles of water and access to cell phones.

And what about that wonderful man who took it upon himself to drive his van up Fourth Avenue and make stops along the R Line after the subways had been shut down? He saved me and several other people from a very long walk home.

I’ve often said that 9/11 was a day when we saw humanity at its very worst and its very best. I want to believe that the human race is better than what we all saw that day, that we can improve, and rise about that savagery.

I want to believe that, but I don’t have much hope.

This world will never be the same for the people who lost loved ones on 9/11. Their pain continues long after the speeches and the ceremonies and I try to remember their suffering, their endless sorrow when I start bitching about my own stupid little problems.

I wish I could say I learned my lesson from that terrible experience, but to be honest, I do more than my share of complaining.

I was looking for something remotely intelligent to say on this twelfth anniversary and I finally recalled a line I read while on vacation in Toronto last week.

I was on the bus out to Niagara Falls and, instead of being excited like a normal person, I was feeling agitated. I was worried about something going wrong on the trip.

We could get into a traffic accident, the boat might sink; the Loch Ness Monster might make a surprise appearance at Niagara and swallow me whole.

I can conjure up a disaster scenario with the greatest of ease.

I was also feeling lonely, since I was traveling by myself, and I would have no one to really share my adventure with.

And then I happened to look up as we passed St. Andrew’s Church in downtown Toronto and read the message on the electric sign standing in front of the building.

Remember this day that you are loved,” it said.

I’m still shocked at how much comfort I got from reading that one simple phrase. I immediately relaxed, sat back, and prepared to enjoy the day. I felt like I mattered, that I was worthy.

It’s not much, but it’s all I can to say to those people who lost friends and family on September 11. I don’t know what it feels like to be you; I have no concept of the agony, rage, and anguish you must feel every day.

But, for what it’s worth, please try and remember that on this day and every day, you are loved.