Sunday, April 27, 2014

First Man Standing

I thought I was hearing things.

I was sitting in my nice, comfy seat on the X27 bus Friday morning, all set to slip into my commuting coma.

This is a blissful state of mind where I daydream, meditate and enjoy the occasional X-rated fantasy. And by “occasional,” of course, I mean “non-stop.”

I was just about to step off into the abyss when a young woman got on the bus at 65th Street and stood right over me.

I expected her to keep going until she found a seat when I realized that there probably were no seats left.

I paused for just a moment before I looked up at her.

“Would you like to sit down?” I asked.

I’ve done this many times before. On each and every occasion the woman in question says “no, thank you,” and I cheerfully remain on my keester with a clear conscience.

Only things were a little different this morning. Instead of saying “no, thank you,” this young lady said, “oh, thank you.”

Oh, as in “oh, you mean you really want me to give you my seat?”

Yes, that’s what exactly what she meant. Stunned at this shocking turn of events, I somehow managed to pry my tortured tuchas out of that beautiful chair and step aside so the woman could sit down.

I looked down the length of the bus just to make sure there were no other seats, but no such luck.

“Full boat,” I muttered.

I was the only one in the bus standing up and I could feel all these eyeballs aiming at me. As someone who loathes being the center of attention, I was ready to go full-on fetal right there in the aisle.

Get On Up

But I calmed down and saw that I stood out because I was doing the right thing. Helping someone is often physically uncomfortable, which is why sitting on your butt is so tempting.

As we drove along, I imagined how I would behaved in I had not gotten up.

I’m sure I would’ve feigned sleep or buried my beak in the Times, while stewing in useless guilt and concocting all sorts of lame-ass excuses as to why I shouldn’t get up.

I’m older than she is. I’ve got a bad back. Why can’t any of the other men on this bus offer her their seat?

Jesus, I’d rather ride on top of the bus than suffer through such a self-centered soliloquy.

No, damn it, I was going to stand tall. My mother would’ve wanted me to give up my seat and knowing that I was honoring her memory had me floating through the clouds.

The bus moved into the HOV land on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and I felt like a surfer taking on the Pipeline in Oahu.

Hell, I sit at my desk all day; it wouldn’t kill me to stand up for a 25-minute ride to the office.

The bus got into the city in no time and as we came out of the tunnel my internal jukebox was cranking out “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons.

I’ve had the highest mountains, I’ve had the deepest rivers. You can have it all but life keeps moving. I take it in, but don’t look down…

Now it’s important not to overstate things here. I only offered my seat to a lady. I didn’t throw myself on a live grenade or take out a terrorist cell with a penknife.

But since I seem to dedicate an awful lot of time to self-abuse, it felt nice give myself a pat of the back.

I grabbed an empty seat at Battery Park, the first stop in the city. The young lady got off at Rector Street and walked right by me without looking in my direction.

It would have been nice if she had smiled or wished me a good day, but I didn’t mind. Virtue really is its own reward. I knew that a very special lady up in Heaven was quite proud of me and I was on top of the world.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wind Walkers

I met Cathy on the B9 bus one Saturday night when I was coming home from Manhattan.

It was a cold, colder than it had any right to be, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my apartment. Cathy, an elderly lady with a shopping cart, was sitting across from me.

“Are you going to Shore Road?” she asked a teenaged girl sitting a few seats away.

The girl shook her head no and looked down to the floor, so I put my hand up.

“I am,” I said.

“Can you walk me to my door?”

“Yeah, sure.”

The teenager got off at the next stop so it was just Cathy and I riding to the end of the line. As she struggled to stand up, I saw that Cathy needed the shopping cart to help her walk.

“I fell down in my own house one time,” she told me.

She wanted me to walk with her because she was afraid of the winds that blew in off the Narrows.

Those winds can be fierce. Back in my jogging days, I used to run along the bike path that runs along the Narrows and on freezing winter mornings I could actually see the wind churning through the water as it headed straight for me.

It gave me a chance to brace myself before the freezing air sliced through my body. I had a beard for a while and I remember pulling chunks of ice from my whiskers when I got home.

And I could sympathize with Cathy. My mother had to use a walker toward the end of her life and we had to be very careful with her whenever we left the house.

The Leaves Hang Trembling

I’ve had so much grief with my back that walking became absolute torture and I bore no resemblance whatsoever to that fitness-obsessed lunatic running through frigid temperatures.

“My son is in Florida,” Cathy told me as we walked slowly-very slowly—across 71st Street. “He was married for almost 25 years, he has 12 kids, all adopted, some from Russia, some from America.”

Some of the children were handicapped, Cathy said, and her son’s wife had left him because of that.
“She said they’d have to take care of those kids forever,” Cathy said.

We walked for a little while longer and we both noticed the absence of any winds.

“It’s not so bad,” Cathy admitted. “I could’ve done this.”

No worries. It was on my way home anyhow and I enjoyed hearing her story. When we reached Cathy’s apartment she turned to look at me.

“God sent you here to help me,” she said.

Some people might roll their eyes at this—myself included at one time-but now I like the idea of a supreme being moving people to where they’re needed the way the wind blows ships across the sea.

“I grew up here,” Cathy continued. “I lived in this building all my life. I moved to another apartment. And then my husband and brother died.”

I lived in this area nearly all of my life, too. I always talked about going to faraway places, but it never happened. I was afraid of the wind, too, the wind of change that would’ve taken me away from the familiar and off to someplace new.

But having said all that, I do love my home near the water and I’m thankful I have it.

“Shore Road is a nice area,” I said.

“Except for the winds,” Cathy reminded me.

I wished Cathy well and walked home. The air was cold but the wind was quiet and the Narrows was as smooth as a pane of glass.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Other Side of Fear

Let the record reflect that I did my very best to make this thing happen.

I’m known the world over for hemming and hawing on any and all decisions.

Given the right conditions, figuring out what I want for lunch can turn into a veritable opera of torment and self-abuse.

So just imagine the torture I inflicted upon myself when I recently received an email from the School of Visual Arts announcing a two-week screenwriting course in Rome.

The class was expensive, more than I wanted to spend, honestly, but it sounded great. You get to see Rome, work with film instructors at an Italian university, write short scripts and then—best of all—hand your work over to actors who would then perform the scenes.

I’ve taken courses with the SVA before so I know they’re a good outfit. Two summers ago I took a director’s course there and then waaaay back in 1980, I went on a two-week trip to Trinity College in Dublin for a screenwriting class with Ernest Tidyman. I met one of my best friends during that trip and we keep in touch to this day.

Rome seemed perfect, especially since I’m half-Italian. Dublin took care of Dad’s side of the family; now it was time to pay to tribute to Mom’s.

And what’s more, we would be leaving on my birthday. Now is that a sign or what?

But, of course, I was conflicted up the wazoo. It was too much money, I should be traveling to L.A. for an agents’ conference instead, I should stay in town and shoot a short film, like I’ve been threatening to do for close to a decade.

I met with Sal Petrosino, the course's director, at his office on East 23rd Street. He gave me the rundown on the program and threw in some great advice.

“Life is meant to be lived,” he said.

But I was still struggling. My shrink had me do an exercise where I close my eyes and imagine someone I really trust coming to me to help me make my decision.

I did something very similar for qigong mediation class years ago and the person who came to me that time turned out to be my mother. And now she was making a return visit.

Mother Knows Best

“What does Mom say?” my shrink asked.

“She says go,” I replied without hesitation.

“There’s your answer,” my shrink said.

So I signed up. And the second I gave the bursar my credit card number, I instantly was besieged by a relentless barrage of “what ifs?”

What if I get sick? What if my back goes out again? What if I get kidnapped by the Red Brigade—assuming they’re still in business? I’d have to buy a laptop, but what if I bought the wrong laptop?

I was playing a mental game of whack-a-mole, bashing one worry only to have another pop up somewhere else in my mind.

But that’s the thing about fear—it can adapt to any situation.

I’m forever posting all sorts of spiritual sayings on Facebook and I came across one by Jack Canfield that seems to have been composed for my benefit.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I tried to calm down and started making plans for the trip. Find a good computer, get down the suitcases, and try to be enthusiastic for Christ’s sake.

But the Comfort Zone Kid was still lingering inside me. When Sal said he was hoping to have enough people for the trip, the fearful part of my mind seized upon that sliver of doubt and fervently prayed that it wouldn’t happen.

I know—it’s insane. Who the hell dreads a trip to Rome? Anybody else would be hopping up and down at the thought of traveling to the Eternal City.

And then one day Sal called me and said the trip was being cancelled because not enough people signed up. Some of these geniuses completed the online application, but then balked when they actually to pay for the goddamn trip.

I’m ashamed to say that part of me felt relieved, grateful that I wouldn’t be breaking my precious routine. I blamed myself for the trip’s cancellation, as if my fretting had somehow spawned all varieties of bad karma.

See? It’s always my fault; even what it’s not my fault. Mamma mia!

The regret is settling in though. Every time I look at the syllabus I want to cry. This would’ve been a great experience for me.

But there’s no point in wallowing in “what ifs?” The SVA has other overseas courses and maybe one of those will work out for me. I’m determined to put the Comfort Zone Kid in a closet and make that leap to the other side of fear.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Short Stop

Oh, the humiliation.

Disaster struck early last week when I was unceremoniously booted off my beloved Express Bus.

I’m still stunned by this turn of events. I’ve pretty much made a second career out of praising the X27 and here I was being ejected from my favorite mode of transportation like a flasher at a church social.

Excuse me?

The debacle occurred after work one day when I was tired and anxious to get back to Bay Ridge for a chiropractor’s appointment.

I got out of my office and walked two blocks up Broadway to grab the X27. My timing was excellent. As soon as I took my place on line, I looked down the street and—thar she blows!—my bus was chugging down the street.

I took out my wallet, climbed aboard and ran my Metrocard through the appropriate slot. But instead a friendly little beep I got a mechanical gag from the register and a disapproving look from the driver.

“It’s no good,” he said.

“What’s no good?” I demanded.

“The card,” the driver repeated. “It’s no good.”

“That’s impossible,” I declared. “I just used it this morning!”

“It’s no good.”

“But I filled it yesterday!”

This was quite true. I had put an additional 40 bucks on my card the day before, bringing the total up to $70. And yet this dolt was telling me the card wasn’t working.

“Hey, look,” I said, as a line formed behind me. “I gotta get outta here!”

“Do you have another card?”

I did, but, of course, it didn’t have enough money on it. I had plenty of cash so I turned to look at my fellow passengers in hopes of buying a ride off of one of them.

“Can anyone help me out?” I asked.

This Way Out

Suddenly all of the people who had been watching me were looking in every other conceivable direction.

“I can’t,” the woman behind me muttered.

Yeah, I know the routine. Nobody wants to get involved. I confess I often do the same thing when people come hitting me up for money. But I had the dough, damn it. I was ready to do business.

I was feeling rather awkward. I had a bus driver cut me a break one time when my card was short a few bucks, but I could see this butthole wasn’t going to be anywhere near as helpful.

I finally stormed off the bus, embarrassed and infuriated. I hate being the center of attention and now I felt like I had a massive spotlight shining right through me.

I dashed to the train station at Cortland Street and told my sad story to the booth attendant. He checked the card and said there was some kind of malfunction and that there was nothing he could do about it.

I dropped an additional 40 bucks on my spare card, grabbed a refund form and dashed back to Broadway, determined to take my rightful place on the Express Bus.

On the way over I rescheduled my appointment with the chiropractor because I didn’t want to get any more twisted than I always was.

I had a Metrocard go south on me once before and I got a refund--eventually. More importantly, I learned from that experience to get a receipt every time I refilled my card.

I sent the latest refund request off in the mail on Thursday and I should get the check just in time for the return of Hailey’s Comet.

I’m still pissed at that bus driver and I’m more annoyed at myself. I was so worried about making a scene that I didn’t stand up for myself. I held up my end of the bargain. It was the damn card that wasn’t working.

Part of me thinks I should have taken a seat and let the driver try and toss me off. But I know that would have just inconvenienced a whole bunch of people and caused me a whole lot of grief if things had escalated. There's a difference between sticking to your guns and being an idiot.

I did the right thing for the wrong reason. I was motivated more by shame than by a desire to make the best of a rotten situation.

I’ve been riding the bus for the last week now without incident. I haven’t seen that driver yet, but I suppose he’ll show his ugly mug sooner or later.

Screw him and his extended family. I belong on the X27 and no one’s going to keep me off.