Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clown Atlas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then disaster struck.

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

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

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

Prayer Position

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shave On

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

I shaved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I told him no," Garry said.

Slow Hand

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

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

And then came the hot towel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Long Distance

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

Rob?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we were on the phone we just…talked.

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

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

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

It's For You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Booth or Dare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…

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

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

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

Penance for Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Plymouth Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Don’t You Cry For Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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