Friday, August 30, 2013

Ring Rust

I came home on a recent Friday night, picked up the remote and channel surfed until I came upon a classic fight program.

The footage was grainy and I recognized the voices of Marv Albert and Ferdie Pacheco, the “Fight Doctor,” who had called a lot of fights together during the 1980s.

I was a big boxing fan back then. Inspired by Rocky, Hard Times, and other movies, I imagined myself as some kind of junior badass putting up my dukes and taking on the world. Now, of course, I know much better.

Boxing and mixed martial arts matches are about the only sporting events I watch, even though I know the fighters are risking brain damage with every blow they absorb.

I must say it’s getting harder for me to enjoy these fights because, as I get older, I realize how fragile human beings really are, no matter how fearsome they may look.

I’ve been around long enough to see talented young athletes battered into feeble, overgrown children from years of head trauma that they suffered in the ring.

I was starting to feel anxious as I watched this particular bout, but it had nothing to do with the health and welfare of the two combatants. As usual, I was concerned about myself.

I knew that I should’ve been out doing something instead of sitting in front of the TV by myself on a freaking Friday night.

But I was tired after a long week at work, and I was worried about aggravating my back condition, and it looked like rain, and why go out when I have the latest DVD from Netflix and this old timey fight to watch?

When it comes to making excuses, I’m the heavyweight champ.

Then I caught the names of the fighters--Rocky Lockridge and Wilfredo Gomez--and something tugged at my brain.

Throw In The Towel

Why did they sound familiar? Yes, I enjoy boxing, but I’m not a statistics freak who can tell you the color of a fighter’s favorite trunks or how many times he spat out his mouthpiece in the course of his career.
Then the memory cells started to warm up. I had actually seen this fight in real time, way the hell back in 1985.

I had listened to Marv and the Fight Doctor give the color commentary back when Reagan was occupying the White House and these fighters were actually punching each other.

I was five years out of college when Lockridge and “Bazooka” first squared off. Now their match was on a classic fights program. And I was watching it on TV…again.

No, I thought, I’m not doing this. A group of local business people were sponsoring a street fair a few blocks from my house. There was going to be live music, belly-dancing and tons of food. It sounded like fun.

I decided I should go. Yes, I was definitely going to go. Right after this round ended…

Well, the round ended, the next one began and I was still watching TV. The bell rang again, another commercial came on and I hadn’t moved an inch.

Hell, I thought, I’ve come this far; why not watch the fight until it’s over?

And that’s when I picked up the remote and thumbed the picture into oblivion.

However the fight had ended, who had beaten whom, it all happened nearly 30 years ago. It was ancient history. I wanted to be a part of what was happening now. And out the door I went.

For the record, Rocky Lockridge, a one time super featherweight champion, lost that fight against Wilfredo Gomez. He later developed a drug problem, suffered a stroke, and became homeless. A scene of him sobbing on a reality show became a rather heartless Internet meme known as “Best Cry Ever.”

Gomez, frequently mentioned as one of the best Puerto Rican boxers of all time, also had troubles with drugs. But the three-time world champion cleaned himself up and became a trainer.

I learned all of this a few days later when I did a Google search. But on that particular Friday night, I had left my TV behind.

It actually did rain; I ended up calling it a night fairly early and I came back home to resume my place in front of the TV.

But at least I was out among the living for a little while, instead of staring mindlessly at the past.

I'm going to be taking some time off. I'll have limited computer access, so all of you please take care and I'll see you soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

We Who Walk Here

I read through the New York Times obituary for Julie Harris this morning in search of a reference to The Haunting, my nominee for the scariest movie of all time.

Miss Harris, who died on Saturday, made her considerable mark in the theater, but I know her best for her work in Robert Wise’s 1963 classic that has been scaring the beejeezus out of me since I was eight years old.

The movie is finally mentioned in one of the obit’s last paragraphs, where Miss Harris’ character is summed up as “a spinster beset by evil spirits.”

I suppose that’s one way of putting it.

The Haunting is a terrifying ghost story that manages to frighten us without blood, guts, CGI or buckets of flying pea soup. No, Wise combined good filmmaking, three-dimensional characters, and fine actors, to strike fear into the hearts of audiences.

The spookiest thing about the film is what we don’t see. There are all kinds of ungodly noises—pounding on doors, hideously indecipherable chants and wailings, but there are no ghouls or freaks in hockey masks.

Wise lets our imaginations fill in the horrifying blanks and that’s far more frightening than any computer generated hobgoblin.

Miss Harris plays Nell, an emotionally disturbed woman who joins a small research group investigating the strange goings-on at Hill House, an extremely creepy old New England mansion.

I Hear You Knocking...

Nell is central to the plot and Miss Harris plays her perfectly. We learn that Nell had taken care of her invalid mother for years and now lives a miserable existence at her sister’s home.

She seizes the chance to escape to Hill House and the chilling thing is that even though this sinister place reeks of evil, she is drawn to the house because in some sick way it offers an escape from her pitiful life.

Claire Bloom plays Theodora, another member of the group, who befriends Nell. Theodora is a lesbian, but the message is delivered with such subtlety that I didn’t pick up on it for years.

Rosalie Crutchley does a great turn as the demented Mrs. Dudley, the caretaker’s wife, who cranks up the crazy early on by telling Nell in a lobotomized tone that “there won't be anyone around if you need help… No one will come…in the night…in the dark.”

Our family loved this movie so much that we actually rented a TV to watch it at our summer vacation home in the Poconos.

The rest of the time up there we went tube-free, but this was one of the few instances where we allowed to look at what my father called “the Idiot Box” while we were away from Brooklyn.

The movie was frightening enough when we watched it at home, but viewing it in our country house where there were no streetlights outside, where “dark” was seriously dark, I was ready to dive under the couch.

If I had to make a complaint about the film, I’d say there’s a little too much voiceover narration. We hear too much of Nell’s thoughts in scenes where the visuals were powerful enough.

There was a despicable remake of this film, which I refuse to link to and which I actually paid good money to watch in a theater. It is the opposite of the original in every way and that ain’t good news.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Miss Harris on the stage, something I deeply regret. But her role as a spinster beset by evil spirits is permanently carved into my memory and I can’t thank her enough.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Collision Course

I walked down Houston Street Wednesday night mildly curious about the accident at West Broadway.

There were plenty of cops and yellow tape, and traffic was shut down in both directions.

Houston Street was eerily empty, except for a lone motorcycle rider who roared by me with his head cranked down over the handlebars. He stopped when a man stepped out from a group of cops and waved for him to hit the brakes.

I assumed this was a fender bender that would be quickly cleared up and cars would soon be streaking up and down the street at their usual manic pace.

And then I got closer a little and I saw a sheet-covered body in the middle of the street.

“Damn,” I muttered, “that was a fatal."

It’s funny, but I’m certain those were the same words my editor at the Pocono Record said one cold winter night 25 years ago when I covered my first fatal accident.

We were listening to the scanner when we heard the county corner being called out to an accident, which meant somebody wouldn’t be going home. I forget where exactly that wreck had occurred, but it was a long way from Houston Street.

Now I was just a spectator.

As I got closer to the corner I saw pieces of a shattered motorcycle strewn about the intersection. The bike was so thoroughly demolished it looked as if the victim had ridden over an IED.

I heard someone shouting “chill, chill!” and there was the lone rider, now on foot, struggling to get to the body in the street while another man held him back.

I joined the crowd of gawkers, and noted how I seemed to be the only one not taking pictures. I recalled how furious victims’ friends or family members became whenever they saw a photographer at crash site, even though we never published images of the dead. Today we’re all paparazzi.

The Medical Examiner’s van pulled up and a bunch of cops held up sheets to shield the corpse. The guy from the ME’s office picked up a boot from the street and put it in the back of the van.

It felt odd being on the opposite side of the yellow tape. Even after all these years, I wanted to be part of the inner circle, getting the facts and photos, bullshitting with the cops and firefighters. Now I was just another chump on the sidelines.

Some Other Time

The strange thing is that I wasn’t supposed to even be here. Normally I go straight home on weekdays to write or look for agents or screw around on the Internet.

And I was all set to do it again on Wednesday, telling myself that I was too tired to attend a potentially interesting exhibition in SoHo. Next time, I told myself.

But the elevator doors in my building are made of a highly reflective metal and when they closed I took a nice long look at myself during the six-story descent to the lobby.

Liar, my reflection sneered, you keep saying you’re going to change, you’re doing to do something different, but every night you do the same goddamn thing.

I almost did it again on this night, but the express bus took a little too long to arrive, and that nagging voice in my head wouldn’t shut up.

So I started walking until I stumbled upon the accident scene.

The police began cleaning up the debris and cops fanned out to shoo everybody away, perhaps preparing to move the victim.

“You better start walking, folks,” one cop said to a group of us on the corner.

I did as I was told, went to the exhibition, and after a short time, I decided to go home. I left early, but at least I had tried to break out of the comfort zone. Unlike the man who had died on Houston Street, I had another day to try again. We just never know which day will be our last.

News reports say the 32-year-old victim ran a red light on Houston and crashed into the side of a minivan that was heading north on West Broadway.

I thought about the terrible price this man had paid for one careless moment, one bad decision.

And yet there I was, the very next night, running across Park Row against the light to catch the express bus and charging right into the path of oncoming taxi.

The cab driver hit the horn and I jumped back, mumbling “fuck you” under my breath, even though I was completely in the wrong.

I had made one bad decision and I nearly paid a terrible price for a bus that hadn’t even arrived yet.

I told myself to slow down, let the bus go and catch the next one. It’s better than being a sheet-covered body in the middle of the street.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dime and Again

My father did not believe in coincidence.

Whenever he had run-ins with petty bureaucrats, dimwitted telephone operators, or terminally dense waitresses, he’d slowly shake his head and sarcastically say, “I get all the winners.”

Dad, who was not the most patient of men, said those words a lot when I was growing up and I confess that I inherited his hostile attitude. Or at least that’s the excuse I give people.

However, I know that this is no way to go through life and I’m making an effort to change.

And change was the theme when I walked into my local supermarket last week--only this type of change was in the form of serious coin.

I was standing on the checkout line listening to Billy Joel on the store’s sound system singing “Tell Her About It,” a tune from way back in 1983 that I always liked and hadn’t heard in ages.

The video for the song was equally enjoyable as it was built around the old Ed Sullivan Show and featured an appearance by Rodney Dangerfield.

A scene had been shot at a bar in my neighborhood of Bay Ridge, giving me an additional reason to like it.

That video was a loving look back to a more innocent time, but now, 30 years later, it’s become a fond memory itself.

I got off the nostalgia train when I noticed that the line hadn’t moved an inch in several minutes, which was odd seeing as there was only one person ahead of me.

And then I saw why.

The woman whom I had chosen to stand behind was paying for her groceries in coins. No paper, no plastic, she was actually dropping nickels, dimes and quarters in front of the cashier who was doing her best to scoop them up.

I decided that was I not going to get annoyed like I usually do. I didn’t want to carry on the family tradition of losing my temper and grousing that I got all the winners.

Pennies From Hell

No, I was going to be a mature, patient adult for once and wait until this lady was done. With no place to go and nothing to do, I had no reason to get angry.

So I waited. Billy Joel finished his number and Otis Redding came on to sing his classic “Dock of the Bay,” another one of my favorite hits.

And the coins kept on coming. It looked liked nothing was going to change; everything still remained the same. If this woman doesn’t hurry up, I thought, I’ll be here when the evening comes.

Now I started to get annoyed. This woman must’ve had a piggy bank the size of an Oldsmobile to hold all these coins. Or maybe she had cracked open a parking meter with a sledgehammer.

Of all the lines to stand on, I picked the one with the human slot machine.

Then I took a closer look at her. She was quite heavy, using a walker, and struggling to keep her balance.

I thought of the trouble I’ve been having with my back and how I’ve been limping all over town. Would I want someone yelling at me because I wasn’t moving fast enough?

Otis Redding did a whistling wrap-up and Nick Lowe followed him to sing “Cruel to Be Kind,” yet another fine tune.

The song tells of an unhealthy situation where an alleged friend claims that abuse should really be interpreted as love.

It sounds a little too much like the relationship I had with my father, but I’ve also stood on the other side of the equation, and I know it’s a lie.

Hurtful words and actions are hurtful and nothing more. If you want to let someone know that you love them take Billy Joel’s advice and tell them about it.

I relaxed while the coin lady emptied her bucket. This could be all the money she had in the world and given her condition, I wanted to be kind, not cruel.

So, listen, boy, it's good information from a man who's made mistakes: losing your temper over minor incidents only makes things worse. Stay calm and enjoy life and you’ll be the real winner.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Voice Maul

I picked up my favorite blue pen from my desk on Thursday afternoon and noticed that the clip had come loose.

Now how in the hell did that happen, I asked myself.

And then I remembered. I had broken the clip earlier that morning when I threw the pen down on my desk in a burst of rage.

I know I have anger management issues, but this time I had excuse for my Berserker routine--honestly. Well, sort of anyway…

I had been unable to reach my auntie all morning. She’s staying at her summer home in Massachusetts and we have a routine where I call her every morning before I leave for work.

On Thursday morning I got the voice mail, which happens occasionally when my aunt’s out for a walk or can’t get downstairs in time to pick up the phone.

I left her a message saying that I’d be leaving soon. Often she calls me back before I go out the door, but not this time.

Okay, I thought, no big deal. I’ll call her from the bus stop, which I did. And I got the voice mail again.

By the time my bus arrived I was going into full on lunacy mode and my crazed imagination was conjuring up an asylum’s worth of worst-case scenarios. She's all alone in a rural area. Who knows what kind of freaks are roaming around the woods? I called a third time.

“Marie,” I whispered frantically. “You have to call me back soon or I’ll going to call the police!”

The ride into work was a morbid affair and I felt sick to my stomach as I entered the lobby of my building.

For A Good Time Call

When I got to my desk I realized that I didn’t have the names or numbers of any of my aunt’s neighbors, which is ridiculous seeing that she and her husband bought the place in Seventies.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to call the cops.

Only I didn’t know my aunt’s address. That sounds crazy, I know, but it’s the truth. I’ve been going there since I was in high school and yet I never attached a number to the place. It’s just…my aunt’s house.

I got the address off the Internet, grab my trusty blue pen, and started to write the address down. Only the goddamn pen didn’t work.
And that’s when I slammed it down onto the desk.

I told you had an excuse…well, sort of, anyway.

I called the police department in my aunt’s town, told the dispatcher my story, and prayed to God I’d hear good news very quickly.

It was probably about 20 minutes before my cell phone rang and I was speaking with Sgt. Perkins of the Cummington Police Department.

He said my aunt was fine and that he had in fact woken her up when he parked his patrol car into the driveway.

The phone service was out in a large part of the area—including my aunt’s house--and I had wrongly assumed that a working voicemail meant a functioning telephone. This probably explains why I don’t work for the phone company.

I thanked Sgt. Perkins profusely and then gave praise to Almighty God. I felt as if massive chains were falling off my body and I could breathe normally again.

It turns out that I had overreacted. But I had chosen a course of action, followed through on it, and resolved a scary situation as quickly as possible.

And it only cost me one busted pen.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Streets of SoHo

There’s a line in Sergio Leone’s gangster epic Once Upon A Time in America that pretty much summed up my day today.

“Life is stranger than shit,” the mobster Joe Minaldi says, shortly before his violent death. “That's all. It's a pisser.”

I haven’t seen that movie in years, but those words came back to me this afternoon as I walked around SoHo.

First, I had an excellent brunch at Sullivan Bistro with my two fabulous friends, Jen and Heather.

I love these ladies so much and I always have a great time when we get together.

I worked my way through a delicious vegetable omelet and a glass of wine that was so tasty that I decided to have two more.

So there I was, stuffed, buzzed, and satisfied. The weather was great and the company was even better. It was a perfect summer afternoon.

We finally parted company and I headed toward Broadway for a rendezvous with a bus back to Brooklyn.

I believe I was crossing Thompson Street when I heard someone call me.

Rob Lenihan!

In a city this big, with all these people rushing by, you don’t expect to hear your name rise above all the goddamn noise. And if somebody calls your full name he's probably waving a subpoena or whipping out handcuffs.

I turned in the direction of the voice and there was my ex-girlfriend, whom I had not seen in—Oh, my God, can it possibly be three years already?

I could not believe my eyes. How could you just turn a corner in this cauldron of teeming masses and run into someone you know?

We’ll Always Have the Bronx

If you saw that in a movie, you’d walk out, unless the movie was Casablanca, of course, in which case you’d stare at the screen transfixed while Humphrey Bogart once again says, “of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

My ex was selling her paintings on the street, like so many artists do on that block. And it occurs to me now that we first met at a speed-dating event that was held at a bar just a few blocks from where we were standing.

It’s a pisser, all right.

Now I have to swear before God and the Internet that this woman was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She always made me feel special and supported everything I did, so naturally I found a way to fuck that all up.

I was devastated when I lost her, especially since I knew it was my fault.

My own private saboteur had done an excellent job of making me miserable and it’s only just recently that I feel like I’m getting better at identifying—and hopefully stopping--that little bastard’s subversive acts.

There was a time that I thought I’d die if I ever saw my ex again, but this afternoon I finally accepted that it’s over between us and that I was just holding on to memories.

I’ve made progress in getting my mind together since the break-up, but I know I have a long way to go.

We talked for a little while longer, and then I went to catch my bus.

As I stood on Broadway, looking at all these people, all these strangers passing by, I still couldn’t believe what had gone on in the last few hours.

Most days virtually nothing happens to me and I end up sitting in front of the TV in my underwear tearing up the junk mail.

But today I met up with two dear friends and ran into someone who’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I just wish God or Fate or whoever could do a better job of putting some space between these emotional events so I don’t feel so crammed.

Whatever’s going on, it’s stranger than shit.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Cart and Soul

This may be good for my health, but I still feel like a little old lady.

I finally took my chiropractor’s advice and bought a shopping cart to lug all my groceries.

It’s the right thing to do for my spine, but it seems like yet another step towards infirmity. Next I’ll be climbing on a Rascal Scooter to go play checkers in the park.

I had been putting this purchase off for a while, preferring to lumber down the street with bursting plastic bags in each hand and a bulging knapsack sagging down my back.

By the time I reach my dry cleaner, the last stop of my weekend shopping routine, I look like an overworked bellhop. And then I have to somehow pick up my shirts and get home.

I’ve been telling myself that this was perfectly acceptable, but on Saturday I decided I couldn’t go on killing myself. So I walked into a cheapie store on Third Avenue, threw down 20 bucks and wheeled my new cart out into the world.

I haven’t used one of these things since I was a kid and it felt like I was dragging around an obnoxious younger brother. It just didn't feel manly.

I hit a lot of stores on Saturday and I was the only one of my gender who had a shopping cart. But then the other guys probably stuck their wives with the shopping chores.

And, macho man stuff, aside, I have to admit that this was a good idea. I had to do a fair amount of walking and it was a relief to load up the cart with all kinds of stuff and still pull it around with a minimal effort.

Poppa Wheelie

My new cart is black—red was out of the question—with four wheels that make it much easier to pull or push than the old two-wheeler I used to have. And I don’t need no stinking supermarket carts anymore.

I was chatting with a cashier at a local supermarket while checking out some groceries and I told her my tale of woe.

“Oh, my mother has back problems,” she declared.

“Your mother…?” I said with an anemic smile.

“Yes,” she said. “And I’m trying to be careful because I don’t want back problems when I get older.”

I felt like I was decomposing on the spot. Here I was gently flirting with this young lady and she’s essentially telling me, hey, gramps, don’t die in front of my register.

I did the roll of shame out the door.

When I got home I folded up the cart and parked it on the landing of my apartment. This really was a good investment.

I was feeling rather proud of myself until I wheeled into my laundromat this morning and the lady at the desk took one look at my cart and started laughing.

This woman does not speak my language, but I got the feeling I was being mocked when she started a sentence in Chinese and ended with the word “cart.”

“Yes, it’s a cart,” I said to this person who couldn’t understand me. “I’ve got a bad back.”

She laughed even harder and I walked out, thoroughly routed by a non-English speaker. But I don’t care. I know I made the right decision.

I don’t want to do myself anymore harm and no matter how this looks, using a shopping cart is infinitely more rational than carrying all those bags.

But now I’m suddenly in the mood for cocoa…

Saturday, August 03, 2013

At Long Last...

History was made in lower Manhattan this week and I'm proud to say that I was part of it.

After nearly three years of communicating through our blogs, I finally met Ron of Vent in the real world right outside my office on Broadway.

It was like Abbott meeting Costello, Lewis meeting Clark, or Heckle meeting Jeckle.

Ron, who lives in Philadelphia, came up to New York with the lovely and talented Val of Photo A Day Blog for a day on the town.

Even though we had planned to do this a while ago, I still couldn’t quite believe it when my phone rang and I heard Ron’s voice telling me that he and Val were standing outside my building.

It was so strange speaking with someone in the flesh after all these years of keyboarding. And it was fabulous.

Look, if Superman and Batman can get together for a movie, then it’s high time Ron and I did a meet and greet.

Ron has been one of my most loyal, most supportive readers, always stopping by with a kind word and a thoughtful observation.

Hallowed Ground

Through his blog, I learned about Ron’s love for “The Love Boat,” “Somewhere in Time,” and York Peppermint Patties.

I was amazed when, within a short time of each other, we both wrote posts about Bobby Darin and about being trapped in elevators, though Ron’s elevator experience was far worse than mine.

And my heart ached last November when Ron told us about his mom's death. As someone who still grieves for his mother after 11 years, I can honestly say I felt Ron’s pain.

Thanks to Ron I’ve “met” several other great bloggers, like Jay at The Depp Effect, Bijoux at Bytes from the ‘Burbs, and CrystalChick at Mary Says... And now Val.

We were all drawn together by Ron’s gravitational field. Like the U.S. Navy, Ron is a global force for good.

The three of us went to nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, which was built in 1764 and is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan.

After the 9/11 attacks, the chapel served as a place of rest and refuge for recovery workers at the World Trade Center site and there are several exhibits commemorating this period.

I’ve been to St. Paul’s many times, but it felt really special visiting this sacred place with friends.

We walked around Broadway for a little while longer and then I had to get back to work. But I felt great. The Internet is fabulous, but nothing compares to meeting a such a great guy face to face. I want to get together for a longer period next time, either here or in Philly.

Like the old song says, we did it before and we can do it again.