Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Right Side of the Boat

I was walking toward my gym in lower Manhattan much too early one morning when I saw a line of trailers stretching down Warren Street.

I knew instantly that this was a film crew setting up a location shoot. They tend to pop up around the city like small villages and if you’ve lived here long enough you barely give them a second look.



It was so different when I first moved back to New York 16 years ago. I had returned to the city after a decade of working at small town newspapers and while I had regularly visited New York during that time, now I was an actual resident of the Big Apple.

It was strange relocating to my hometown after all those years. I swapped my car for the subways and began readjusting my vision to take in the huge buildings, massive traffic jams, and endless waves of people.

Initially I felt like a hybrid, one part savvy city dweller who knows all the angles and one part Gomer Pyle, who’s just so amazed at all the bright lights and purty women.

Naturally I went nuts every time I spotted a film crew. I didn’t see much of that in Pennsylvania or Connecticut and so while everybody else would walk by pretending not to notice, I’d stop and take in the lights, camera, and action going on right in front of my eyes.

Maybe I was hoping someone would recognize me for the genius that I was and give me a job on the spot--preferably directing, but I'd do coffee runs, too, if that was all they had. No offers were forthcoming.

I was surprised how quickly I became jaded at the sight of a film crew. It seems like I was only back in town a few months and I was getting annoyed whenever I had to take a detour around yet another movie shoot.

Fish Tale

But after this particular encounter on Warren Street, I wasn’t feeling jaded or blasé. I was depressed.

It’s been my dream since high school to be in the movie business, to be one of those people inside the trailer instead of one of the many spectators forever on the outside. And here I was still dreaming after these years.

The misery hung over me all day as I contrasted where I was with where I wanted to be. It’s quite a gap and a bit sobering, but it also sounds so terribly selfish to think like this when I know there are people all over the world suffering in ways I can't even imagine.

I went to noontime service at Trinity Church the next day and, as usual, Rev. Mark gave one of his brilliant sermons. He read from John 21:4-6 which tells of how the Apostles came up empty-handed one time after a hard night’s fishing.

Jesus tells them “cast the net on the right side of the boat” and when they do “they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.”

Rev. Mark encouraged us to apply that message to our own lives and change the way we look at things. I know my attitude is just flat out bad, that no matter how much I say I want something, a part of me just doesn’t believe it’s going to happen.

And too often I travel in the wrong direction, away from my dream—like working at small town newspapers when I really want to be in the movie business.

The change starts in my head. I need to fish on the right side of my mind and fill my net with a multitude of positive energy. I went to walk on the right path until I reach that trailer with my name on it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Hideous Week

My aunt had a simple question for me yesterday that got right to the point.

“Can you believe this hideous week?”

Hideous is probably the best way to describe what’s been going on in this country recently. And no, I can’t believe it.

In the span of just a few days we experienced the Boston Marathon bombing, the murder of an MIT police officer, the massive explosion in West, Texas, and the U.S. Senate’s appalling rejection of sensible gun control amendments.

The images coming out of Boston were horrific with innocent people being murdered or maimed by a pair of sibling psychopaths. While the loss of life doesn’t match the number of deaths this country experienced on 9/11, it’s a grim reminder that the same demented, hateful minds are still among us.

Is this going to be the new normal? We will have to worry about being blown to pieces anytime we gather in public?

I was walking through the Times Square subway station on Monday afternoon and I caught myself looking for…I’m not sure exactly. A suspicious looking person with a backpack? Unattended packages?

That’s what’s so awful about these attacks. The routine of daily life suddenly becomes a potential war zone. We’re told to be alert, to say something if we see something, and obviously I understand the reasoning behind those requests, but it is still a hell of a way to live.

The gun vote was particularly sickening as the gutless worms in the Senate voted down proposals to expand background checks on firearms sales to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.

More of the Same

Unbelievable. After Newtown, after Aurora, after God knows how many other gun deaths, these political prostitutes had the gall to strike down an intelligent plan that might prevent the next slaughter.

When Newtown first happened, I said nothing was going to change, that nothing would impede the flow of guns in this country and I’m sorry to say that I was right.

The NRA and their lap dogs were so desperate to prevent any change in the gun laws that they fabricated some fairy tale about a national gun registry.

In others word, they lied. Just like they lied about death panels during the health care debate.

I once had a commenter complain about my use of the term of “gun nut.” I know there are responsible gun owners other there, but how else do you describe this kind of behavior? More than 90% of the American people support expanded background checks, but that didn’t mean a goddamn thing to these bastards.

If you think you’re living in a democracy, you’re an idiot.

I’m curious how the Boston marathon bombers acquired the guns they used to murder that MIT campus police officer. What kind of weapons did they have? Perhaps if there had been background checks in place they wouldn’t have been able to get their hands on firearms and that cop would still be alive.

The explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas is looking like yet another disaster that could have been avoided.

It turns out that OSHA hadn’t inspected the place in years, but I’m sure the anti-regulation crowd will find some way of deflecting the truth. And it’ll happen again.

The hideous week is now over, but the scars, the damage, and the misery will be with us for a long time. I wish I could say something positive or hopeful as we start this new week, but I’m just not feeling it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

No Stinking Badges

I was riding on the bus to work one morning last week when a chill passed through me.

My hand shot up to my chest and a quick pat down confirmed what I already knew to be true: I had forgotten my work ID.

I shook my head in disbelief. How could I have been so stupid? I always check to see that I’ve got my ID card before I go out the door. Except for today.

I wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with and this only helped to bring me down a few notches lower. It didn’t mean the end of life as we know it, of course, but if you’re looking for reasons to be unhappy you’ll never be disappointed.

It’s a pain in the neck to get around my office without the ID badge. I have to show it to the security guards in the lobby in order to enter the building and then I need it to unlock the door on my floor so I can reach my desk. The card also comes in handy when I want to get to the men’s room.

I pictured myself standing in the elevator bank like a lost puppy relying upon the kindness of co-workers to zap me in.

I’ve done the same thing for these people when they were similarly jammed up, but I didn’t like having to ask them for help.

When I got to my building the security guard had me pose for one of those god-ugly ID stickers that make you look like you’re being held hostage by terrorists.

I winced when I saw the image that came beeping out of the camera. I was wearing a ski cap and a heavy coat and I looked so miserable, so lost; it was as if the guard had taken a picture of my mind rather than my face.

Pick A Card

Then I had to trudge up to the security office and hand over my driver’s license so I could get a temporary pass. I didn’t like the idea of leaving my license behind, but at least I could get to the john without circumnavigating my floor like a human sputnik.

I felt half-dressed without my ID card. Throughout the morning I kept reaching up to touch it only to find that it wasn’t there and it reminded me of my carelessness.

My ID card has a photo of me as well, only its in color and I’m wearing a suit. It had been taken five years ago by the security chief at our old building on Hudson Street.

He was a retired police officer who came from my neighborhood of Bay Ridge and when the photo was ready he took one look at it and said, “you look very stoic.” I assume that was a compliment.

And now that card was back in Bay Ridge sitting uselessly on my kitchen table while I snuck my office like a spy on a secret mission.

However, as the day wore on, I got used to not having my ID badge and then I started to feel liberated. There’s more to me than a plastic card with a picture on it. It was like I was somebody else in some strange way; I was me, but I kind of wasn't. And it felt all right.

The Stoics of Ancient Greece believed that “man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” I could see that my view was so negative that a simple mistake had turned into a catastrophe. Forgetting my ID card was actually a blessing because I was able to step outside of myself for a little while.

I was going to destroy that horrible day pass photo, but I decided to hold on to it to remind myself that my view of life has to change. I’ll keep it on the kitchen table right next to my ID card.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Machine Age

I stood in line at the CVS store on Fulton Street one morning and witnessed a classic battle of man versus machine.

The man was deranged, probably homeless, and the machine was a self-serve cash register speaking in a female android voice. I couldn’t see what the guy was trying to purchase but the sale obviously wasn’t going well.

“Please swipe your Extra Care card,” the register said with mechanized warmth.

“Mind your own business!” the man shouted at the inanimate object. “I wasn’t talking to you!”

I’ve gotten annoyed with these registers myself but I’ve never tried arguing with one. I usually just fume under the “Help is On The Way Sign” until one of the staffers comes over and wipes the register’s memory clean.

It was kind of funny watching someone engage in this pointless confrontation. The machines can’t hear us, but sometimes you just have to resort to insanity in order to prove your humanity. Being pointless is the whole point.

I had resisted using these cash registers when they first starting cropping up because I was certain I’d foul up the transaction somehow and have to fight off a store full of cranky customers. I told myself that I deserved to be waited on by a fellow human, not some calculator with delusions of grandeur.

But then I realized I could get out of the place faster if I did it myself and so I gleefully swiped my goodies over the screen. Doing anything faster is every hyperactive New Yorker’s idea of paradise and we’ll gladly give up brief encounters with other people if it means we’ll be own our way a few seconds sooner.

You just have to pray you don’t get behind some troglodyte who doesn’t know how a bar code works.

Warning, Warning...

“Welcome,” the machines always say as an opener, “please choose your language.”

Of course I know the thing wants to know which language you speak so it can adjust itself accordingly, but I like to pretend that if I pressed one of the other buttons besides the one reading “English” I would immediately be able to speak Russian, Spanish or Chinese. Hmm, I feel like speaking Swahili today…

In the mornings when it’s crowded the competing voices can turn into a bizarre chorus as the registers blather away.

I interviewed a retail stock analyst years ago about the future of consumer electronics and at some very strange point in our conversation he got on this theme that we were all becoming part machine because of our growing dependence on devices.

“We’re becoming cyborgs,” he said ominously. “I know you think I’m crazy, but it’s true.”

I confess that at the time I did think he was weirding out on me but now I believe he was on to something. I remember banking in the days before ATMs, making calls on pay phones, and looking up information in an encyclopedia.

Every new device comes into our lives as a novelty and rapidly becomes indispensable before turning obsolete at the speed of what-the-hell?

And while I may laugh at the homeless guy for yelling at the cash register, I’ve done plenty of shouting at automated operators as I fruitlessly press button after button in hopes of speaking with a human being.

After berating the register, the homeless man stormed out of the store and stood on the corner shouting at some woman down the block who had caught his eye.

Hey, mamma, where’d you get that fine coat?

It was a little unnerving watching the guy quickly shift from a colorful character to a spooky stalker and I’m sure every woman in the building was hoping he would disappear very soon.

He held his ground and shouted into the wind for a few more seconds before melting into the city's morning commotion.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Falling For Make Believe

It happened one night nearly 50 years ago.

March 2, 1967. Bobby Darin, the artist who gave us “Mack the Knife” and so many other fabulous recordings, took to the stage to perform a number with…the Supremes.

Yes, you read that right. One of my favorite singers teamed up with the greatest girl group of all time. And it was incredible.

Bobby Darin was hosting an NBC show called “Rodgers and Hart Today” aka “The Kraft Music Hall” and he joined the Supremes to sing “Falling in Love With Love” from the show “The Boys From Syracuse.”

And if that somehow isn’t enough for you, then consider this: backing up this incredible ensemble was-oh, God help me-Count Basie and his Orchestra.

Are you freaking out yet? Are you jumping up and down in unrestrained ecstasy? If you’re not doing these things, have you checked your pulse recently?

I found this recording on YouTube when I should’ve been doing something else.

I spend far too much time on this site checking out miles of mindless footage, much to the dismay of my kvetching conscience, which constantly orders me to cease and desist.

I always promise myself that, yes, I’ll get straight back to my very important duties. But right now I just have to watch this video of a chimpanzee playing “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” on the bagpipes.

In my own defense, I have found some nice videos on meditation and exercise. And I also use the site to track down old songs. It’s great to dig up a song you haven’t heard in years and try to remember what you were doing when you first heard it.

Once I find something I like, YouTube does its level best to keep me welded to the site by suggesting other songs I might enjoy.

I’m a huge fan of Motown and I also love the old standards, so I guess that’s how the Bobby Darin-Supremes video popped up.

I’m sure music aficionados have know about this recording for a long time, but when I first saw it I felt like I had stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone.

It’s hard to imagine such seemingly disparate artists joining forces to do such fine work.

The fact that you have united great singers on the same stage doesn’t guarantee that they’ll make beautiful music together. Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson collaborated on a song in the Eighties appropriately called "State of Shock."

It was a huge hit, as I recall, but I always hated the damn thing. The two voices did not blend well at all and, aside from a nice opening, the song itself just wasn't that good.

“Falling in Love with Love,” however, is another story.

The Supremes start things off, while Bobby Darin, looking so incredibly cool, stands with his back to the audience and sways with the music.

This goes on for just over a minute and then Bobby takes center stage and the Supremes sing back-up.

The song is set to a waltz, but the lyrics are bittersweet, as they talk about the pain of loving something that isn’t real. If you've ever had your heart broken, you'll know exactly what the song is saying.

Falling in love with love is falling for make believe,” the song goes, “falling in love with love is playing the fool.”

Bobby, who signed with Motown, joins arms with the ladies to beautifully close out the song. It’s so painful to think that he would be dead just six years later at the age of 37.

So, yes, I do waste a lot time on YouTube. But I won’t feel so badly about that as long as I keep finding gems like this.