Sunday, July 28, 2013

Playing Many Parts

I thought those guys looked familiar.

I was heading up Bay Ridge Avenue to pick up my laundry tonight when I saw two men walking down the opposite side of the street.

I knew I had seen them before, but I couldn’t remember where.

Three more steps and it came to me: I had just seen them yesterday in a production of “As You Like It” at Shore Road Park.

They were undoubtably on their way to the park—a mere five minutes from my house—for the final performance.

I wanted to shout “bravo!” or “you guys were great!” but I didn’t want to embarrass them—or myself—by hollering across the street.

Now I wish I had said something because I had such a great time.

I go to Shore Road Park most weekends when it’s warm to read, relax, and ogle the women in their bikinis. Well, actually I start with the ogling and get around to reading only if there are no women around. No wonder I never finish the Sunday Times.

This weekend, however, I was moving beyond the lechery to take in the Act Out Acting School’s rendition of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy.

Outdoor theater it is emblematic of summer to me and Saturday was such a beautiful day.

While my back situation is improving, I’m still reluctant to travel for fear I’ll have a relapse on the dark side of Palookaville and be forced to crawl back home on my hands and knees.

Mere Oblivion

This time, though, the show was coming to me. The Stones and Streisand have already played Brooklyn, so it’s only right we should get Shakespeare, too.

Combine the close proximity with the fabulous weather and it would've been a sin if I hadn't gone.

In fact, if I failed to show up, Shakespeare’s ghost would probably barge into my house screaming, “I busted my hump writing this stuff, you bald-headed little prick, the least you could is walk half-a-freaking-block and watch it!

So off I went, literally thanking God for the sunshine and blue skies.

I’ve been more miserable than usual lately, so I’ve been forcing myself to appreciate and enjoy the good things in my life and a day like Saturday was a real gift.

The play was a mobile affair, meaning the actors performed in different parts of the park and the audience had to follow them. Yes, there was traffic noise from the Belt Parkway, helicopters flying overhead, and blasting car stereos, but we managed to enjoy ourselves.

The action eventually settled in a wooded spot near one of the park’s entrances and, with the performers just a few feet away, I sat down in the grass to hear how all the world’s a stage and how all the men and women merely players.

I felt like one of the groundlings back at the old Globe Theatre--only I wasn’t throwing food at the actors.

When Rosalind asks “can one desire too much of a good thing?” I was sorely tempted to shout, “oh, hell, no!

Being a comedy, “As You Like It,” ends happily, and I was one of the happiest people around. I had such a great time for such a minimal effort. It was almost like having the actors perform in my living room.

Well, maybe next year. And they could pick up my laundry on the way over.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Boogie Shoes

One dreary winter day 36 years ago, my sister and I walked around the corner from our house in Brooklyn to the Lowe’s Alpine theater to see John Travolta’s disco epic Saturday Night Fever.

The city was digging out from a recent snowstorm and since travel was severely limited, we figured, what the hell, let’s check out the hot movie of the day.

Saturday Night Fever had been shot in our neighborhood of Bay Ridge and people couldn't stop talking about it.

There were Travolta sightings every day during the filming and it seemed like half the people I ran into told me they had a part in the movie.

I had heard that Alex, the son of a local funeral director, who lived on our block, was an extra, but I didn’t see him and I assumed the story was bogus.

My sister and I were not disco types by any stretch of the imagination, and we laughed at these polyester louts tramping through our home turf and mangling the Queen’s English in their attempt to “tawk New Yawk.”

In fact, my sister tells me that she wanted to walk out on Vinnie Barbarino and company, but that I had insisted upon staying until the last dance. I have no memory of this whatsoever, but I’m sure she’s right.

We finally left the Alpine sneering at what we had just seen and I never looked at the flick again until recently when it ran on the Sundance Channel.

Since I had first seen the movie in the dead of winter, it seemed appropriate to revisit the saga of Tony Manero in the middle of a sweltering summer.

I sat down in front of my TV all set to let mockery repeat itself. I’m older and crankier now, so I was certain I could cut this movie to ribbons and send it scurrying back to the Seventies where it belonged.

But something strange happened as I watched Travolta slip into his white suit one more time. I realized that Saturday Night Fever wasn’t…that…bad.

There are several good scenes and the overall theme of trying to make something out of yourself in a heartless world still resonates.

If you can look beyond the hideous clothing—and that’s no easy task—you’ll find a pretty decent story about a young man looking for a better life.

It was also exciting seeing the Bay Ridge of my youth, when there were more local businesses and no chain stores.

For those of you who don’t know, the movie tells the story of Tony, a 19-year-old Brooklyn native who toils at a dead end job in a local hardware store during the day and transforms into a disco king when he hits the dance floor at the 2001 Odyssey club on Saturday night.

“Oh fuck the future,” Tony tells his boss at one point.

“No, Tony!” his employer responds. “You can't fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain't planned for it!”

You Should Be Dancing

How painfully true. The future has its brutal way with you, it never calls again, and it doesn’t even send flowers…until you’re in a casket.

The movie marked the debut of several actors, including Fran Drescher, who utters the infamous line “so, are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?”

Denny Dillon, a very funny actress who was a regular on Saturday Night Live in 1980-81, plays an adoring young fan who breathlessly asks to wipe the sweat from Tony’s brow and then clutches the soiled towel to her bosom like it’s the Shroud of Turin.

The movie accurately portrays the dream of many outer borough residents of escaping Brooklyn and crossing the river to the wonderland that was Manhattan—also known as “the City.”

I am still somewhat stunned at the film’s depiction of Italian-Americans, whose sole form of communication appears to be non-stop screaming.

I feel badly for Nina Hansen, who portrays Travolta’s grandmother and who was regulated to croaking “basta, basta!” and “mangia, mangia!” whenever the pasta fagioli hits the fan.

One particularly annoying scene occurs when Travolta emerges from his bedroom is his little black undies chanting “At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!” in tribute to his idol, Al Pacino. The grandmother responds by covering her face and turning away.

Let me tell you something: I had an Italian grandmother and if I ever pulled a stunt like that in front of her, I’d be chanting “Am-bu-lance! Am-bu-lance!”

Women are treated appallingly, branded as either a “nice girl” or a “cunt” and this Cro-Magnon attitude explodes in a horrifying gang rape scene in the film’s most gripping moment.

Tony and his crew like to prove their manhood by driving onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and swinging from the cables.

I honestly don’t think this is possible because traffic is pretty heavy on the bridge, even late at night, and there’s a significant police presence on the Staten Island side.

Anyone trying to swing from the cables probably wouldn't be doing it for long, but I understand that the filmmakers needed to show how young guys will risk their lives by doing some pretty stupid things. And it sets the scene for a tragic climax.

I was enjoying my second viewing of the film and I did a double take when I saw Alex—the funeral director’s son—on the dance floor of 2001 Odyssey, right next to Travolta. He’s younger and thinner, just like we all were back before the future fucked us, but it’s definitely him.

Alex went on to take over his dad’s funeral business and he would bury both of my parents.

Disco died and 2001 Odyssey was reincarnated as gay club in the Eighties. I was working at a local newspaper at the time and Barney, one of our ad people, used to frequent the place. He cornered me one time by a side door and raved about the clientele.

“The people who go there are fuckin’ gorgeous,” Barney gushed. “They look like fuckin’ movie stars!”

The club shut down in 2005, the building was sold, and the spectacular lighted dance floor was put on the auction block.

People aren’t running off to Manhattan now. They’re coming to Brooklyn.

“We were right all along,” my sister said.

Yes, we were. And we’re still here, and we’re still stayin’ alive…

Friday, July 19, 2013


I feel like I’m walking with someone else’s legs.

I got my cortisone shot this morning in an effort to relieve the dreadful pain that has defined my life for the last three weeks and, well, so far, so good…

The doctor told me it would take anywhere from three to seven days for the effects to kick in, but I have to say that right now—knock spine—I’m feeling better.

While I feel some numbness in my legs, I’ll gladly take that to the agony I’ve been forced to endure since the beginning of the month.

How long this condition will last is another question and I may have to get a second shot in the next week or so. I’ll do whatever’s necessary short of selling my soul to Satan to avoid surgery. And I’m not entirely ruling out a deal with the devil.

God, it feels so good to move around without wincing, moaning, and swearing.

It’s hard to believe I’m the same guy who was limping to the bus stop so badly this morning that a little girl walking with her father stopped and stared at me as if I were the Mummy stalking out of Universal’s backlot in search of fresh victims.

I was torn between giving her a reassuring smile to show I meant no harm and screaming, “don’t eyeball me, you obnoxious little monster!

I decided it was probably best to just keep walking and pretend I didn’t notice her.

Tip of the Spear

The ride into Manhattan was horrible as the anguish—and my reaction to it—got progressively worse. By the time I reached Union Square I was running on pure self-pity and cursing anyone with a working set of legs.

And then I walked into the hospital and I saw...people. People in wheelchairs, on walkers and on crutches--people who were in much worse condition than I was.

Moments later I was facedown on a table with my hindquarters exposed and my doctor was going in for the kill.

“Tell me if you feel any pain,” she said.

Oh, yes, on that you can rely. I was ready to shriek like Fay Wray in King Kong at the first hint of discomfort.

I closed my eyes and tried to think about anything but a needle penetrating my lower back.

The procedure was over in a minute and I was soon walking—not limping--down the hallway. I felt so good I chatted with a woman in the elevator as we rode to the ground floor.

“You’re done?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s painful, but I’m glad I came.”

She was wearing shorts in response to the hideous heat we’ve been suffering through and I looked down to see terrible scars on both her knees.

“Here’s hoping we both feel better,” she said, and blew me an honest-to-God kiss.

Now here was someone worth emulating. No childish complaining, no “why me” whining, this woman was able to see beyond her own problems and show compassion for a total stranger.

I left the hospital feeling humbled but happy. I’m walking normally now and I’m praying the Mummy returns to his sarcophagus and never comes back.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nuts & Volts

I closed my eyes and winced as another wave of electricity surged up my leg.

Stay with me!” Max, the medical assistant, shouted.

Stay with you? Where the hell could I go? I had wires attached to my legs and feet, so if I made for the door, I’d probably be zotzed into a pile of ashes.

And what was this “stay with me” crap, anyway? I was the one getting zapped here, not Max. But he was making it sound like we were Siamese twins.

The strangest part of it all was that I had agreed to this punishment.

I went to a pain management specialist this week to set up a cortisone shot for my aching back and I had managed to receive a lot more pain than I had expected.

After a routine examination, the doctor asked me if I had ever had a nerve conduction study. While I’ve often been told that I have a lot of nerve, no one’s ever made a study of it.

“You don’t have to do it,” she said. “But if you do, it will tell me more about your condition.”

That was a warning right there. If anyone ever tells you that you don’t have to do something, that’s your cue to run like hell because whatever it is you’re signing up for, it’s going to suck.

But I couldn’t turn her down. I’m so desperate for relief that I was hoping more knowledge would result in less agony.

Maybe she’d find something that would help reduce this hideous pain I’ve been enduring for two weeks now and perhaps even avoid further outbreaks in the future.

Then she handed me over to Max.

The Wire

“I don’t want to tell you it won’t hurt,” Max said, as he wired me up. “But I had a 90-year lady in here the other day and she got through it.”

Well, I wasn’t about to be shown up by some walking fossil, so I told Max to do his worst. And he did.

Like other forms of torture, the nerve conduction study starts off mildly. You get a few moments to think, hey, this ain’t so bad. Then the wattage increases.

“It’s getting stronger now,” Max said, stating the incredibly obvious.

My foot started flapping around as if it were possessed. An arc of pain surged up my calf, followed by an even more powerful blast. Damn you, Thomas Edison!

I started to think about prisoners in Abu Ghraib and the detainees in Gitmo. Who the hell was that 90-year-old lady who had supposedly sailed through this torment—Mr. T’s grandmother?

“I confess!” I told Max, though I hadn’t been accused of anything.

“There’s going to be seven quick ones in a row,” Max, sporting fellow that he was, informed me just before seven little lightning bolts rocketed up my leg. Yes, I counted.

I started to wonder if this was an actual examination or some field training for Max when he applies for a job with the CIA.

I got the treatment in both legs and then a few more shots at the base of my spine. Max finally unhooked me and told me to have a nice weekend, which seemed rather implausible. Unless someone needed me to jump-start their car.

After Max left the room, the doctor came back in to perform another test, this time sinking a needle into various points on my leg in some kind of sound wave exam. It wasn’t pleasant, but after the electro-shock treatment it didn’t seem so bad.

I’m scheduled to get a cortisone shot on Friday. If the pain comes back in a month, the doctor says “we’ll have to talk.” This could mean surgery, which I dread, but right now I think I’d take that over another round with Max.

I crawled out of the doctor’s office and limped toward the subway. If there’s a 90-year-old lady in this town who could take this kind of abuse, I hope I never meet her.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Free Fall

I always try to behave like a gentleman, though sometimes it can be a real challenge.

I hold doors open for women, offer my seat to them when I’m riding on crowded trains or buses, and, hell, I’ll even tip my hat when standing aside for a lady. That’s the way my mother raised me and I want to honor her memory.

It just feels right, too. These actions require very little effort on my part, the women seem to appreciate it, and that, in turn, makes me feel good.

However, this bit of old school gallantry was put to a severe test recently when I was leaving my chiropractor’s office.
I was waiting for the elevator with a young woman who was talking on her cell phone.

People yakking into their phones are a part of the modern landscape, of course, but it’s still annoying to be force-fed a one-sided conversation.

When the doors opened I did the gentlemanly thing and stepped aside to let her get on first.

She made no acknowledgement of my courtly behavior, but I’ve grown accustomed to this, and, honestly, I shouldn’t expect it, since we all know that virtue is its own reward.

I hit the button for the lobby, the doors closed and we began our descent from the 13th floor—yes, really—and plummeted straight into Hell.

“Did you see what he did to my baby’s hair?” she barked into her phone.

Why, no, I hadn’t and I didn’t particularly care. The person on the other end of the call apparently didn’t take the question seriously either as the young woman began shouting.

“It’s not funny,” she cried. “He lied! He lied to me! He cut off all my baby’s hair!”

This woman made absolutely no attempt to lower her voice or control her emotions. I was the Invisible Man as far as she was concerned as she roared into that phone like a champion hog caller.

Then she started sobbing and suddenly this 30-second trip down to terra firma became weirdly elongated like a rift in the space-time continuum. Where’s Stephen Hawking when you need him?

I’ve never had an elevator ride last so long. Obviously there was no place to hide and I couldn’t very well walk out of the room.

I toyed with the idea of pushing open the emergency door and climbing up the cables, but my back was killing me. So I just cranked my head down, stared at my shoes and prayed for this nightmare to end.

“He lied to me!”

Look Out Below

Whoever he is, God help him if he has to come home every night to this screech fest. Sir Walter Raleigh would have a tough time being chivalrous to this loon.

I started to panic. What if the elevator got stuck? This woman showed no signs of calming down, meaning that I would be trapped in here with this lady and the deafening saga of her hairless brat.

I felt terribly conflicted. On the one hand I felt badly for this woman because she was a fellow human being and she was clearly upset. But, Jesus, Mary, and Ralph, did I have to hear all about it?

We've become a society with no sense of restraint, shame or embarrassment. Everything we do is put on display like a non-stop reality show.

We all have unpleasant episodes in our lives, but it’s always best to keep them as quiet as possible and deal with them in the privacy of our own homes.

What kind of example was this woman setting for her child?

And what was the big deal? The kid got a little too much taken off the top? I’m sure your baby has plenty of hair left, lady, and, unlike me, whatever he lost today will grow back.

As the elevator came to a stop, I very briefly thought about letting this woman step out ahead of me.

But then the doors opened, my survival instincts kicked in, and I bolted free of that little tin box like a lifer crashing out of San Quentin.

The woman carried her act out into the lobby and the last thing I heard as I hurled myself at the revolving doors was her anguished cry.

“It’s not funny!”

No, madam, that’s one thing we can all agree on. This wasn’t funny by any stretch of the imagination.

I hope this lady sorts her problems out. I’m truly sorry for blowing by her like that, but she didn’t seem to notice my existence and she really left me no choice.

I’m sure Mom would understand.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

March or Die

In Sidney Lumet’s classic “The Hill,” a sadistic sergeant at a British military prison forces inmates to repeatedly climb a massive mound of sand under the blazing North African sun.

I know just how those guys felt.

All right, perhaps I’m overdoing it a little bit, but my never-ending back trouble has warped my sense of proportion.

I went to see a new chiropractor on Monday in an effort to relieve this agony and she told me that I have to do a series of 10-minute walks every day with an ice pack pressed against my spine.

“Don’t lie down,” she said. “You have to walk.”

Ten minutes may not sound very long, but when every step is drop dead painful, time stands still, grabs its crotch, and blows raspberries in your face.

Don’t look at the clock, I tell myself, don’t look at the clock...

Well, of course I’m going to look at the goddamn clock. It’s impossible not to. And I still haven’t been able to go the distance as the anguish forces me to pull up a seat every few minutes. Ducks in a shooting gallery move faster than I do.

It seems ironic that while we celebrate our nation’s birth I’m limping around like one of the guys from The Spirit of ’76.

I wish I could report some improvement in my condition, but it still hurts like a bastard. If I had a dollar for every time I dropped the f-bomb in the last few days I could buy a new spine.

It’s gotten so bad I’ve taken to inventing my own obscenities. When I got back from the chiropractor I was in so much pain that I actually slid to the floor of my apartment the moment I got inside.

Cruel Summer

“Fuck!” I wailed up to the ceiling. “Fuck-a-nola!

Fuck-a-nola? I have no absolutely no idea what that means. It sounds like a small town in Wisconsin or a college fight song. Only I don’t have much fight left in me.

It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago I was thinking about taking a bike tour on Long Island. I guess I should be thankful for holding off, since I would’ve been forced to pull the plug. But right now I’m not feeling the gratitude. I’m just pissed.

I keep hearing references on the radio to the High Line and Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing, both of which I’d love to see and both of which are completely out of the question—along with just about everything else I’d like to see or do.

I’ve been working from home, but I honestly don’t like it. As much as I loathe commuting, I’d rather be at the office and talking with my co-workers face-to-face instead of shooting emails back and forth.

I feel like I’m under house arrest, except instead of having an electronic bracelet around my ankle I'm bound by pain. The weather reports keep talking about the humidity and warm temperatures, but there could be snowdrifts up to my windows for all I care.

I hear children playing out in the street, people greeting each other, actually doing things. Me? I’m the Mayor of Fuck-a-nola.

The chiropractor is actually open tomorrow, so while normal people are firing up their barbecues, I’ll be having my hips realigned in order to firm a more perfect union.

Now it’s time for another forced march.

Happy Independence Day…