Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day of Obligation

I have this childhood memory of walking with my father through a crowded, smoke-filled room.

I was very young and apparently the only child in the place.

While my subconscious keeps telling me it was a bar, I find it hard to believe my dad would ever bring me into a saloon at that tender age.

Wherever it was, we got separated and all of a sudden I was alone in a sea of towering adults. I was so small I couldn’t see any faces, just bodies.

Frightened, I grabbed at the nearest sleeve, looked up and said “Daddy!”

Only it wasn’t Daddy. It was a total stranger looking down at me. He laughed and it seemed like everyone in the room joined him. And I was more frightened than ever.

My father found me seconds later and we walked out together. I’m wondering now who that man was and what he must have thought when some strange kid grabbed his sleeve.

Of course the irony here is as I got older, life got harder and my relationship with my father became strained. I stopped looking for Daddy and started looking to escape.

My father couldn’t accept the fact that his children were growing up and that we didn’t need to hold his hand anymore. I only wish I could’ve figured that out while he was still alive. It might have made both our lives a little easier.

That memory came back to me only recently following a phone conversation I had with my sister.

“I’m going to church today,” she told me one morning while I was at work.

Today’s the Day…

I searched my mind for any holy days of obligation on the Catholic calendar and drew a blank.

“What for?” I asked.

“It’s the anniversary of Dad’s death.”

I felt this chill come over me. It was indeed the seventh anniversary of our father’s death and I had completely forgotten it.

I know this never would’ve happened with my mother. I can sense the anniversary of her passing coming closer as we come into July. I think I would know that day even if I didn’t have a calendar. Or at least I like to think so.
I tried to shake off the sense of guilt I was feeling, but it hung around me all day like a low-grade fever.

What kind of son would forget the day his father died?

I had a particularly bad day at the office, where I could do absolutely nothing right, and I was sure I was being punished for my thoughtlessness.

And just to drive the message home, one of my coworkers had left his coffee mug by the men’s room door, placing it so I could see the cutely simple drawing of man in a tie standing above the word “Father.”

Whoever had left the mug there forgot to come back for it so I had to see the thing every time I went to the can.

Okay, I thought late in the day, I get it. I’m a rotten son. Now please take your goddamn mug before I smash it to pieces.

I didn’t go to church that day. I tried to atone for my sins on Facebook by writing a tribute to my father as if I had planned to do it all along.

I can’t do undo the past; I can’t go back in time and make things better between us. But I’m thankful he was there to lead me out of smoky rooms.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pinch and Judy

It’s starting again.

I’m sitting at my computer and, as I reach for the keyboard, I can feel a wave of numbness spreading across my left shoulder.

This has been going on for the last 10 days or so and the episodes range from mildly annoying to full-on Vulcan nerve pinch.

It’s like I have an internal stun gun zapping me every time I move the wrong way. I just wish someone would tell me what the right way is.

I tried ignoring it for the first few days, basically giving my bad shoulder the cold shoulder. But this strategy failed, as it usually does, and I shifted straight into panic gear, convinced that my arm was going to dry up and fall out of its socket.

Fresh out of denial, I went to my chiropractor who told me that my neck and upper back were out of alignment.

Apparently the top portion of my body decided that my lower back has gotten too much attention lately and pulled a little job action of it own.

How exactly this happened remains a mystery. It’s all highly illogical.

I didn’t strain myself in the gym and I haven’t been shoving around my furniture lately. I had been turning my head somewhat sharply to the left to copy some material into a Word file, but I have since cut that out. Let’s hope it wasn’t too late.

Set Phasers on 'Suck'

My chiropractor told me to lay off the gym for a week, which is kind of like telling a fish to lay off the ocean.

I know I’m obsessed with exercise and I know it is taking up too much space in my brain, but I only go to my health club three times a week. That’s nothing compared with some of the hardcore health club commandos I’ve seen.

I’ve been doing some qigong shoulder exercises and while they’ve been helpful, they haven’t eliminated the problem.

I called my doctor and described my condition to him over that phone.

“It’s a pinched nerve,” he told me. “You need to support your neck when you sleep or it can become nerve damage.”

No, thank you, I’m damaged enough. I was going to order a neck-friendly pillow online, but I decided that this couldn’t wait, so I raced over to a nearby Bed, Bath & Beyond after work on Thursday and made the purchase.

The thing looks like a Klingon potato chip, but so far it seems to be helping.

I started feeling better after one night and on Saturday I decided I was well enough to go back to the gym. And about an hour after my cardio kickboxing class, my shoulder started throbbing again.

I set up an appointment with my pain management specialist for Tuesday. This is the same doctor who treated me during my three lower back outbursts, so he should know the terrain pretty well by now.

I’m hoping I won’t have to go through another round of physical therapy. I know I’m not young, but I’d like to think my skeleton has got a few more miles left.

I want to get this misery cleared up at warp speed so I can live long and prosper.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Matinee Idle

I was standing outside the Linda Gross Theater with my sister one recent Sunday afternoon when I spotted a potential customer.

We had come to this renovated church on W.20th Street to see the Atlantic Theater Co.’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive.

Our beloved auntie was supposed to join us, but she had come down with a horrendous cold and now we were looking to unload her ticket before the matinee started.

The theater has a no return policy so we had to take our act outside and try to bag a random patron of the arts.

I figured this would be a cinch. The show had received rave reviews, McPherson is very popular in New York and who could possibly pass up a chance to sit next to me?

Well, a lot of people, apparently. We were striking out to beat the band. And that’s when I stopped this one fellow and asked him if wanted to buy a ticket to the show.

“Do I want a ticket?” he repeated in a fine Irish brogue. “No, I’m in it.”

That’s right, I had just tried to sell a ticket to Michael McElhatton, one of the cast members. Both my parents were salespeople for years, but whatever skill they had did not rub off on yours truly.

“So you can see it from the inside!” I said, desperate to seal the deal.

But he just laughed and kept going, so I gave him a hearty “break a leg!” and continued the search for a customer. With my luck, I'd probably approach the playwright.

At least my attitude was improving. I had started off feeling very self-conscious about standing outside the theater and hawking a spare ticket.

I used to feel same way about doing man-on-the-street interviews when I was a newspaper reporter. I didn’t want to stop total strangers on the street and ask for their opinions on the topic du jour.

But I always found that as I talked to people, I got more into doing the interviews and before long I was cheerfully flagging down more victims.

The same thing happened as we looked to sell the ticket.

“We got a ticket here!” I shouted like a hot dog vendor in Yankee Stadium. “Good seat and cool company!”

Still, we weren’t getting anywhere. In these days of the Internet, people can get a theater ticket just by pressing a few buttons.

So we had our own little drama out there on W.20th Street and met a whole cast of characters.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

There was one odd fellow staggering up the theater steps on roller skates—yes, really—who refused our offer in hopes of nailing a last minute discount at the box office.

We met Sue, a very nice young woman from New Jersey who chatted with us while she waited for her friends to show up.

And, since misery loves a duet, we befriended a lady who was also trying to peddle a spare ticket after her husband had taken ill. I saw that she was sitting in Row F, just like us.

“We’re F’ed up!” I declared.

As the time ticked away, I felt the pressure mounting. Now when you’re stressed in New York, who is the last person in the entire world that you want to see--and who invariably shows up?

Yes, of course, the ranting homeless man. And here he comes now, stomping on the pavement and shouting gibberish up to the heavens.

And did he keep going and disappear? Don’t be ridiculous. Our local loon picked a spot about 20 feet away from us and continued his senseless rant for what felt like forever.

I thought about giving him our ticket to punish the tightwad audience, but Sue noted that he’d be sitting next to us and we would be suffering the most from my little act of sabotage. Shucks…

Then another character, the helpful nitwit, came along in the form on an older gentleman with glasses.

“What do you have there?” he asked, sounding all kinds of curious.

“A ticket to the show,” I said.

“A ticket?” he repeated with amazement.

“Yes,” I said, my excitement mounting. I was going to make a sale; I just knew it. “You want to buy it?”

“No,” the man replied after a long moment. “I’ve got my own ticket.”

What? How dare you waste my time like this, you pointy-headed douchebag? I must’ve lost five possible customers jawboning with you.

We never did sell that ticket and we wound up using the extra seat to hold our coats. The Night Alive is a great show, but the day wasn’t quite the same without our auntie.

Still, we met some very nice people and I learned an important lesson about salesmanship.

I don’t ever want to be a salesman.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Great Divide

In my mind I’m going to Colorado, but reality is a little different.

My family’s second attempt in 7 months to visit my brother in the Centennial State was stymied this week when super freak voodoo storm Hercules flexed his snowy muscles all over the northeast and dropkicked airline schedules straight into the Underworld.

We were supposed to fly out of JFK on Thursday night just as Hercules came blasting into town.

Our first plane was rescheduled twice and by the time it was ready to go—at midnight—the roads had gotten so awful that we didn’t want to risk getting into a car, let alone a plane.

Every time I looked out the window on Thursday night and saw the raging snow I thanked God and all the saints in Heaven that we weren’t flying through that grief.

My sister did a herculean job of trying to get us another plane, but that flight was cancelled and getting yet another flight proved to be such a challenge that we agreed to scratch our trip and try again in warmer weather.

Colorado is taking on a mythic dimension in my mind, like Oz, Shangria-La, and the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

Is this place real or just the stuff of legend? Now that they just legalized marijuana in Colorado, we may never know…

I was extremely disappointed, especially since I would not be able to have the epic dance-off with my niece, Victoria, nor would I wear the gnome hat that she claims to have waiting for me.

Still, we did have a good laugh on Saturday during yet another one of our psychotic phone calls.

“I can always tell Eighties music,” she told me. “It’s got that electronic beat going on.”

I told her to check out Erasure, OMD, and the Human League to get a taste of the Eighties.

“Can you show me your I-pod so I can make fun of it?”

“I don’t have an I-pod, smartass!” I shouted.

“Then I’ll get you one and make fun of it!”

Dance Hall Days

Victoria spoke disparagingly of the Bee Gees, and while I’m not a big fan myself, they did provide the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever.

“You have to watch that movie,” I told her, explaining the Bay Ridge connection. “It’s your heritage!”

“Then you have to watch She’s the Man,” Victoria retorted.

For those who don’t know, or, in my case, don’t freaking care, She’s the Man is a teeny-bopper regurgitation of Twelfth Night that would undoubtedly have the Bard doing somersaults in his grave.

I still don’t understand how this figures into her argument, but that’s Victoria for you.

“I’ll bet you were rocking those disco shoes back in the 70s,” Victoria said over my loud protestations. “I’ll bet you had one of those creepy policeman mustaches.”

“I had a beard,” I shouted, which wasn’t creepy in the least.

She asked if I still had my high school yearbook. I said yes and very quickly added that Hell would freeze over and Satan would be passing out ice cream sodas before I would ever show my yearbook photo to her.

“When you pass from this world can you leave me your yearbook?” this kid actually had the nerve to say.

“What?"I roared. "You're digging my grave here?"

I told Victoria I would be bringing a copy of Saturday Night Fever when I come out to see her. She said that we’d also have to watch “Full House,” which took place in San Francisco, the place where she was born.

I've got a bad feeling about this, but I actually agreed to her terms. And may God have mercy on my soul.

I know that some day I will actually visit the State of Colorado. I will walk through the Mile High City and I will make my way out to my brother’s house in Fort Collins.

And, if it’s the last thing I do, I will don a gnome hat and dance to Eighties music.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Rolling Year

And so it’s 2014.

The holidays have come and gone and "the rolling year" as Jacob Marley called it in "A Christmas Carol" has swept right by us. Now we begin again.

Christmas at my house was a quite affair with catered food and the lovely company of my sister and auntie.

Unlike Thanksgiving, where I kept a lid on my emotions, Christmas saw me tearing up at every conceivable--and inconceivable--opportunity.

“What’s wrong?” my sister asked during one of my many spectacles.

“I don’t know!” I blubbered.

“It’s Christmas,” my auntie observed.

It’s hard not to get emotional when you remember the people you love who are no longer with you during the holidays.

New Year’s Day has been quiet. I got up late, fired up the DVR, and watched a couple of episodes of “The Twilight Zone” I recorded from the Syfy Channel’s marathon showing of Rod Serling’s classic TV program.

One in particular, entitled “The Four of Us Are Dying,” stuck in my mind.

It tells the story of Arch Hammer, a lowlife with the ability to change his appearance who uses this eerie skill to con, deceive, and cheat his victims. His is all things to a lot of people until he crosses paths with the wrong person and pays a heavy price for his evil ways.

Keeping it Real

Arch operates out of a fleabag ironically called the “Hotel Real,” a stark reminder that the face-shifting fiend is anything but real.

Real is what I want for 2014. Like last year, there will be no specific resolutions in 2014; just a reminder to increase the good stuff that will keep things real and to cut down on
the bad stuff that will send me into the Twilight Zone.

I found a quote from the Gospels that I would like to use as my guide for this year and the years to follow.

Mark 5:36 simply states “Do not be afraid; only believe.”

I spend a lot of my time being fearful and worried, which then often leads to anger, so this line says a lot to me.

Also, “536” was the address of my family’s house in Bay Ridge and the priest at Trinity Church where I attend services is named Mark. Come on, man. This line was meant for me.

“You always looking for signs and omens,” my auntie rightly tells me.

Indeed I am. And speaking of signs, Rob Brezsny’s Freewill Astrology newsletter uses the statue in St. Peter’s Basilica as a metaphor for my new year.

Brezny says that visitors over the centuries have worn down the statue’s foot by kissing and touching it.

You will have a similar kind of power in 2014, Gemini,” Brezny writes. “Little by little, with your steady affection and relentless devotion, you can transform what’s rigid and hard.”

All right, then, I’m checking into the Hotel Real with a suitcase full of affection and devotion.

Happy New Year.

I’m going to be taking some time off, so everyone please take care and I’ll get back to blogging as soon as I can.