Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where is the Love?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” --John 13:34-35

The Black-Eyed Peas were right—something really is wrong with the world.

In particular I’m looking at Indiana and Virginia and their disgusting legislation that allows bigots to hide behind their alleged “religious beliefs” and refuse providing services to gay people.

Make no mistake, people, these atrocities are not laws; they’re hate crimes in drag. They give extremists a legal excuse to inflict their vile views on the rest of us.

It’s shocking that someone could actually invoke the name of Jesus Christ in defense of these horrible bills. They need to stop thumping the Bible and actually start reading it.

What would Jesus do? Not this bullshit, I can assure you.

I wonder what world these holy idiots live in where the biggest problem you face is making a cake for a gay wedding.

Must be great to live in a place where there’s no crime, no poverty, no homeless families, no sickness, and no pollution, a place where the only thing to fear are same sex coupkes.

I get so angry when I think of the good, loving people in my life who stood by me, who supported me in some of my darkest moments and who just happened to be gay. They all have more goodness in their little fingers that this bloviating hypocrites have in their entire bodies.

If that sounds like the old “some of my best friends are gay” line, well, you’re goddamn right. Some of my best friends are gay and if you don’t like that, you can go straight to Hell.

Send Us Guidance From Above

What is happening to this country? We used to look to the law for guidance and protection. We used to pass legislation that brought out our best qualities, instead of reinforcing our most base emotions.

And we looked to religion to make the world a better place, to open doors, not to build walls and breed hatred.

I feel like we’re entering into another dark age, where religion is being used as a cudgel to batter science, logic, and love. It is a very ugly time and I don’t see things turning around any time soon.

There are people whose religious beliefs call for crashing airplanes into buildings and chopping off the heads of nonbelievers. Shall we write laws catering to them as well?

For the record, I go to church and pray every morning, and my God loves everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.

Governor Mike Pence, the Republican imbecile who signed the license to discriminate into law, claims he didn’t expect “the hostility that’s been directed at our state.”

The Indiana bill has rightfully sparked calls for a boycott of all things Hoosier and Pence is sputtering about how it is being misinterpreted, but he, of course, is full of shit.

He completely miscalculated the reaction to this law and got caught with his pence down. Now he’s doing a coward’s two-step and suggesting that he’s open to another bill that would “clarify” the original law’s intent.

It’s time for a return to sanity and we can start be dumping these laws and really listening to what Jesus had to say.

We only got one world, people. That’s all we got.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Crossing Paths

I didn’t see the well-to-do up and down Park Avenue, but last week I almost collided with a first class schmuck on that famous thoroughfare.

I was on my way to a meeting at Fidelity Investments’ midtown office at Park Avenue and 51st Street in an attempt to get a reading on my finances.

I’ve had an account with them since 1980 and while I’ve been making annual contributions to my IRAs I had no real handle on their worth.

I had been relying on my brother, who had worked at Fidelity for years, to manage my money.

But he left the company a while ago so now I was trying to make some shaky steps towards adulthood before senility sets in.

I have to confess that my knowledge of my holdings is shockingly limited. When it comes to any discussion of this topic I tend to go into full-on Butterfly McQueen mode and wail, “I don’t know nothing about managing no mutual funds!

This had to change. Two weeks ago I met with my bankers at JP Morgan Chase and now it was Fidelity’s turn.

I got permission to come in a little later on Wednesday morning, took the express bus up Madison Avenue and walked over to Park on a morning that was much colder than it should’ve been. But I was determined to shake off the bonds of dependency and denial and take on the mantle of maturity.

And then some prick walked right in front of me.

I was stunned. This--this…putz came strolling out of an office building on 50th Street pulling a wheeled suitcase behind him. He looked healthy enough, though apparently his peripheral vision must’ve been on the blink because he crossed my path as if I were the Invisible Man.

Are you shitting me, pal?

This bum was in his sixties with perfect white hair, wearing an immaculate blue suit, and wielding an attitude that could burst the top off a steamer trunk. He was heading to the curb presumably to hail a cab or climb into a limo.

White Spats and Lots of Dollars…

I couldn’t believe it. Is it possible that this douchebag hadn't see me coming up the street? Was he completely unfamiliar with the phrase “excuse me”?

I pegged him as a banker-broker One Percenter parasite who had been born with silver spoon in his brain and didn’t deign to recognize people who made less than six figures and didn’t go to prep school.

“Nice going, asshole!” I muttered.

I kept on walking, wondering if I should’ve yelled louder. Or maybe I should’ve crashed into the idiot just to show him what it feels like to be ignored.

I’m just some faceless peon who doesn’t deserve any respect because I take a bus instead of a taxi? Bite me, Rockefeller.

That would’ve been quite a scene: two middle-aged men brawling all over Park Avenue over some imagined insult.

The whole point of this expedition was to hang with the grownups and now here I was acting like an aging juvenile delinquent.

And to be honest, Suitcase Boy might’ve been genuinely distracted and wasn’t aware that he had invaded my space. God knows I’ve been guilty of that myself.

But even if he was a self-centered dick—and I’m pretty sure he was—there was no reason for me to join him.

I reached the corner of 51st Street and locked eyes with a man who was just crossing Park Avenue. I stopped and bowed slightly.

“After you,” I said.

The man nodded his thanks and proceeded. That’s all I want, I thought, just a little respect.

My meeting at Fidelity was embarrassingly informative as I learned that I know next to nothing about my savings.

Over the weekend I received two packages of financial information from my bank and my broker, which means I have a long overdue appointment with reality.

I want to increase my knowledge of my financial affairs so I can enjoy a stress-free retirement. Then some day I can strut out of a Park Avenue building and people can get the hell out of my way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Dad Project

I was standing in the men's room line during intermission at a theater in Union Square last week when I had this flashback to a terrible fight I had with my father when I a young man.

It happened nearly 40 years ago and yet it came popping back into my head like a poison mushroom.

I was getting ready for school one morning when my father came walking in the bathroom without knocking—something he did quite often.

I got angry—something I do quite often--we both started yelling at each other and then it escalated to a point where he was lunging at me while I started smashing karate chop blows to his face. It was horrible.

My mother was right in the middle of this hideous confrontation, as she usually was, the poor woman, and I would give anything to undo it. But failing in that, at least I’d like to stop replaying the goddamn thing.

My sister, auntie and myself had gone to see the Irish Repertory Theater’s production of Da by Hugh Leonard, which I’m sure helped resurrect this particular nightmare.

The play tells the story of an Irish writer who is visited by the ghost of his recently-deceased adoptive father.

My sister and I both thought the hero’s father was a bit of lightweight when compared with our experiences, but in view of the play’s subject matter I guess it’s not surprising that I had a ghostly experience of my own.

There was a time when I would’ve grabbed hold of this foul recollection, held it close to my heart, and either relived the rage or withered in shame at the memory of my past deeds. Either way I would have done a real number on myself.

Curtain Call

But this time I did something quite different. As soon as that nasty encounter came roaring toward me like a runaway train, I took a mental step away from it and silently announced the incredibly obvious.

“That’s a bad memory,” I told myself.

Yes, I know, instead of Da, this sounds more like Duh! It’s about as profound as saying water is wet.

But I’ve never made an acknowledgment like this before. I always blindly accepted the painful past until it polluted my present. This was just a bad memory—and nothing more. Why relive it?

It wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening anywhere except in my head. By actually naming this demon I was able to rob it of its power over me.

Isn’t it amazing what great ideas you get while waiting to go to the can?

My subconscious mind has an incredible ability to dredge up the ugliest memory at the most inappropriate times, but if I can just keep calling them out, naming these mental mirages for what they really are, I think I’ll be a much happier fellow.

I’ve embarked on yet another self-help effort that I call “The Dad Project,” where I rewire my memories of my father.

Whenever I recall something unpleasant about my dad, I deliberately search through my brain for a pleasant memory of my father and play that one in my head. It’s a conscious effort to change the way I think.

I know I did have good times with my father. I just have to work a little harder at recalling them. It's like unscrewing a faulty light bulb from its socket and replacing it with a good one.

If I keep this up, I’ll be shining brighter than a theater marquee on opening night.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let It Go

“Every time we say ‘I must do something’ it takes an incredible amount of energy. Far more than physically doing it.” –Gita Bellin

I pressed the buttons on the MetroCard machine Friday and watched as absolutely nothing happened.

I had just struggled through a herd of cattle-minded commuters to get down the stairs at the Courtland Street R station—and all for naught, or so it seemed.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” I said much louder than I should have.

I was cold, tired, and extremely fed up. It had snowed the night before, the temperature had dropped accordingly, and I was so goddamn sick of winter.

I was doing a very good job of feeling sorry for myself when I heard a voice coming from behind me.

“That happens sometimes when it gets cold,” the voice said.

I turned around, embarrassed by my outburst, and saw a rather heavyset middle-aged woman standing before me. Between having my vision impaired by my hood and my mind clouded by self-pity, I just plain didn’t see this lady standing so close to me.

I went to a second machine, repeated the refill ritual, and everything worked perfectly. Now I felt like a real dope, losing my cool in public like that.

And the thing is I had just come off a great day where things had gone insanely right for me. It started Wednesday evening when I heard the weather report warning of heavy snow for Thursday morning.

I go to my gym on Thursday morning and I couldn’t possibly miss my beloved boxing class over a damn blizzard. This was an outrage!

But then at some point I was able to step outside of myself and see that I was getting far too upset over a potentially missed gym workout. There were plenty of chances to take a boxing class on Friday if I felt the urge.

Put 'Em Up!

I suspect this insight came from my daily meditation, which helps to tone down the laser light show in my brain. Whatever the reason, I just decided to let my worries go.

And then everything fell into place. I got to the gym with no problem whatsoever and had a fantastic workout. I pumped on the battle ropes, hit the weights, and a great time in the boxing class.
When it came time to go one-on-one with my instructor, I was on fire. I couldn’t believe how much energy I had.

And better yet, a couple of guys in the class whom I hardly know were suddenly striking up conversations with me. It was crazy.

At one point during the class I actually asked God to help keep this fire burning in me—even when the rains come.

I’m slowly learning the difference between letting go and giving up. Letting go means you free yourself from the worries and pressures of your goals, whereas giving up means just that—throwing in the towel, walking away, and surrendering without a fight.

Stepping outside of yourself is so important. One time during class I was trying to balance myself on the BOSU ball when for some odd reason, I started thinking of this wonderful woman I had dated and then lost due to my various hang-ups.

“You’re a loser,” this voice inside my head said.

Seriously. This how I talk to myself.

But instead of being crushed and hurt by those harsh words, I was able to distance myself from this senseless self-loathing and see that the hateful voice was an old recording that had no place in my present life.

I don’t want to use the word “breakthrough” because I think you can put far too much pressure on yourself by declaring that you are now cured of all that ails you. But I do feel like I’m making some progress here.

So my little freak-out with the MetroCard machine on Friday morning didn’t mean I was a failure. It was merely a minor misstep.

I thanked the woman who had helped me and told her to have a nice day. I was all ready to emotionally bash myself for not being more like her, but then I shifted my point of view a little.

This woman wasn’t here to shame me; she was here to guide me, to show me a better way of living. Wasting time getting upset with myself just delays my journey. It was time to let go and get the fire back.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Street of Dreams

It was the same old song, only now it was completely different.

I was fiddling around on YouTube the other day and I wound up going back in time and reliving some personal history.

I was listening to a block of songs by Bobby “Blue” Bland, a fabulous blues singer whose name I had known for years, but whose work had only recently caught my attention after I saw The Lincoln Lawyer and heard Bobby singing “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” over the opening credits.

Bobby does an excellent job with this song and it really sets the mood for the film.

I felt like I should know the song and the singer and the fact that I didn’t know either one sent me scurrying straight to the Internet.

YouTube was only too obliging, hooking me up with one Bobby tune after another. The standouts include “Members Only,” “I Ain’t Gonna Be the First to Cry,” and “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me).”

I felt like an explorer discovering a lost civilization. Yes, obviously millions of people know Bobby “Blue” Bland and my so-called “discovery” was strictly a one-person affair. But that’s the power of great music—it makes you feel as if it’s been written just for you.

And then a song called “It’s Not the Spotlight” came on and I stopped everything I was doing.

If I ever feel the light again shinin' down on me,
I don't have to tell you how welcome it will be…

This tune sounded really familiar. I was almost certain that I had heard it before, but I didn’t know where or when.

I felt the light before, but I let it slip away,
But I still keep on believin' that it'll come back some day…

This was so strange. I knew nothing of Bobby’s work, so how could I possibly know this song? I decided to poke around to see where I might have come crossed paths with this tune. And then I remembered.

Feel the Light

I first heard Rod Stewart do “It’s Not the Spotlight” on his 1975 album Atlantic Crossing. I was a freshman in college back then and this was one of the first LPs I ever bought.

Bear in mind that this was a record—not a CD or a download, but an actual vinyl disc. And I loved it so much.

The album is divided into a fast side and slow side and in addition to “It’s Not the Spotlight,” the recordtracks also includes “Three Time Loser,” “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” and a slow version of the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine.”

Back then “It’s Not the Spotlight” was not my favorite track by any means. I didn’t dislike it. I just didn’t think that much of it.

But that all changed when I heard Bobby’s version. No disrespect to Rod Stewart—I’m a tremendous fan—but Bobby really owns this song.
And the lyrics resonate with me much more now than they did with my younger self. The singer talks about feeling the light again as he hopes he’ll reunite with his lost love.

It ain't the spotlight,
It ain't the candlelight,
It ain't the streetlights,
Of some old street of dreams…

The line about letting the light slip away is particularly painful because this guy lost a beautiful relationship—something I can certainly relate to—and that, despite all this hopeful talk, he will never again see the light shining in his lover’s eyes.

The song was co-written by Gerry Goffin, the one-time husband of Carole King, with whom he co-wrote some of the biggest hits of the Sixties, including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Loco-Motion.”

Their story is dramatized in the Broadway show Beautiful, which my sister and I saw last year when our aunt from California came into town.

The play depicts Goffin as a talented but troubled man who is constantly sleeping with other women. Carole King finally gets fed up and divorces him and I’m wondering if Goffin wrote “It's Not the Spotlight” after he realized how much he had lost.

That was quite a ride I took, traveling back to the Seventies, bouncing over to Broadway and coming back to the present.

It was long walk down the street of dreams.