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.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Place of Meetings

And to think I almost went to Vegas.

I just got back from a week in Toronto and I have to say that I had a fantastic time.

The trip was a last minute decision, as I considered visiting my aunt in the Berkshires, flying out to Sin City or staying the hell home.

I cut Las Vegas from the list when I realized that I have no great interest in gambling or seeing any of the live shows.

I’d like to see Vegas some day, but you don’t have to spend an entire week in the circus to have a good time.

I finally picked Toronto, a town that I’ve been interested in seeing for years. The name “Toronto” supposedly means “Place of Meetings” and that just what it was for me.

While I saw several of the city’s major sites, undoubtedly the biggest moment of my trip was meeting the fabulous Jenni of Calamity Jen in the real world after something like seven years of communicating through our respective blogs and Facebook.

I’ve “watched” Jenni as she got married and gave birth to her beautiful son, Kai. Last week I had the pleasure of having dinner at her home with her fabulous family on my first full day in town.

It was a great way to kick off my vacation and after a delightful evening with Jenni & Company, I somehow found the nerve to ride the CN Tower’s outdoor elevator—without Xanax, mind you—to get a first class view of the city.

I had booked a seat on a bus tour out to Niagara Falls and rode the Maid of the Mist for a close up view.

On the way up, the bus driver played a DVD about Niagara’s history that discussed the people (lunatics?) who went over the Falls in a barrel, long before there was such a thing as Xanax.

Prior to this boat ride, I had only thought of Niagara Falls as a place for honeymoons and a key element in a classic comedy bit. But I honestly never had a strong desire to visit the place. The boat ride changed all that.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or hearing. The roar of the falls was like a nonstop explosion and the experience reminded me that despite our obsession with technology, nature still offers the greatest show on earth.

We were all drenched by the time the 20-minute ride was over. The boat crew had given us ponchos that were supposed to protect us from the driving water, but, as I mentioned to Jenni, I hope the people who made these things don’t make condoms.

Slowly I Turn...

What else? Well, I rode out to the Toronto Zoo to see the pandas, visited the Royal Ontario Museum to take in the Mesopotamia exhibit, and checked out the Ontario Science Centre.

I think my favorite city, however, was Casa Loma, once the home of financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt.

This is an honest-to-God castle located right in the city, complete with secret stairwells and an 800-foot tunnel that leads from the main house to the stables across the street.

Oh, yeah, I also managed to appear on Canadian TV. One night a local radio station teamed up with a cable provider to sponsor an outdoor screening of “Star Trek Into Darkness” in Yonge-Dundas Square.

People showed up dressed as their favorite Star Trek characters and a local TV news crew stopped by to do a slow pan over the audience while the movie was playing.

I knew nothing of this until I got back to my hotel room and switched on the evening news. I had my hood on in response to the chilly night air, but I still recognized my gorgeous self as I sat like a monk and chomped away on my free popcorn.

The week ended with an excellent dinner in downtown Toronto with Jenni and fellow blogger Heather of Orange Blossom Goddess, whom I also met for the first time.

The only unpleasant moment during the whole trip occurred on my walk back to the hotel on that last night when I saw one street mutt pounding on another dude. The fight didn’t last long, as the attacker’s pants were falling down and exposing his derriere. Being a true New Yorker, I looked straight ahead and pretended I didn’t see anything.

I was up the next morning at a positively obscene hour to get back to New York to attend a birthday party for a friend—also named Jen.

It’s still hard to believe that I was standing in front of the gates of the U.S. Immigration Office in Toronto at 4AM and then partying with friends in an East Village houkhah joint a few hours later.

So that was my week. It wasn’t quite as exciting as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but for a last minute, seat-of-the-pants operation, it worked out just fine.