Sunday, October 25, 2015

Just A Kind Word

In the 1987 gangster epic, The Untouchables, the infamous bootlegger Al Capone, brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro, tries to downplay his well-deserved reputation for violence.

“I grew up in a tough neighborhood,” Capone tells a group of reporters. “And we used to say ‘you can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.’”

We already know the on-going horror show that guns have inflicted upon this country, but lately I’ve been amazed at the healing power of a just a kind word.

I was in the PATH station in Hoboken one recent morning adding money to my Metrocard when one of the station employees, this very pleasant African-American lady, approached me to see if I needed any help with the machine.

“No, thanks,” I said, appreciating her concern. “I’ve got this.”

She walked away while I slipped my card into the appropriate slot and waited. And waited. And waited. The Metrocard machine made all kinds of clicks and squeaks but refused to return my card. Oy…

I looked around for the station agent and waved to her.

“It turns out I really do need your help,” I said, rather lamely.

She headed in my direction and as soon as she arrived, my card popped out of the slot.

“You bring me luck!” I said

I hadn’t given any thought to these words; I just kind of said them. But this lady made a very pronounced sigh as if she were deeply touched.

I don’t envy her having to work in that train station and, knowing New York-area commuters the way I do, I seriously doubt she hears many kind words in the course of a day. So if felt really good to cheer her up even for a brief moment.

Hell, I thought, that was pretty easy.

In fact, it’s so easy that I’ve decided to look for every opportunity to say something nice to people.

And then a few weeks ago I was on the receiving end of a much-needed kind word.

I was stumbling onto the X-27 bus with a laptop on my shoulder, a knapsack on my hip and the New York Times falling through my hands.

Aisle Be There

I was tired, worried about my job, and pretty much fed up with life in general.

As I walked down the aisle in search of a seat, what seem like several tons on advertising flyers slipped out of the paper and littered the floor.

Great. Now I’ve got to try and pick that crap up while holding onto to all the other junk I’m carrying.

“I’ll get it,” said this middle-aged man in a nearby seat.

“It’s okay,” I said, gathering up the debris in my arms like I was carrying an infant. “I’ve got it.”

“Hang in there, buddy,” my fellow passenger said with refreshing sincerity.

That was it. That was the sum total of our interaction. But something about it really touched me.

No one else on that bus offered to help me; no one even acknowledged my presence, opting instead for the Big City Stare, where you steadfastly refuse to look at any unpleasant occurrence even if it’s happening right on top of you.

I’ve resorted to this urban blindness myself on many occasions, so I am certainly not passing judgment.

I’m just so grateful to that man who chose to actually see me and offered to help.

I looked for the man when I pulled into my stop so I could wish him a good day, but he had already gotten off.

But I’ve been replaying his line in my head whenever I feel pressured and it’s been quite effective in helping me calm down.

Hang in there, buddy.

I’ve looked at kind words from both sides now and I must say there’s nothing like giving or receiving a verbal thumbs-up.

It's nice to think that these two incidents are related, that what goes around really does come around, and I was being rewarded for my minor act of kindness. But you shouldn't expect a reward for being nice to people.

To paraphrase another gangster flick, The Godfather, I would advice people to leave the gun and take the kind words. You’ll be surprised how far you get.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Eyes Have It

It took much longer than it should have, but I finally broke down and ordered my first pair of reading glasses yesterday.

I have been putting this off for years, as I fought a losing battle with small print by squinting, using a magnifying glass, or just flat out giving up and hoping to hell I hadn’t missed anything important.

I actually “lost” the prescription and had to request a duplicate from my doctor before finally parking my keister in front of the computer and making it happen.

It wasn’t easy. I’ve always had good vision, bonehead typos notwithstanding, and I was so proud of how I had staved off failing eyesight for so long.

But even I have to admit that things were getting bad. I’m holding newspapers up to my honker and cranking up the zoom on my computer until it looks like skywriting.

My eye doctor put it simply.

“You’re 58!” he declared, a little too loudly for my taste.

That said it all. Stop lying to yourself, cut the crap and get the goddamn specs. You’re old, grandpa, you’re old.

I probably wouldn’t have gone to the doctor had it not been for an annoying eye infection that wouldn’t go away and, naturally he checked out the state of my peepers and found them to be lacking.

My eye guy recently relocated to a building on Third Avenue that was once the home of a weekly newspaper where I had worked for two…hmm, what’s the word? Oh, yeah…miserable years nearly 30 decades ago.

It wasn’t a happy time for me and, of course I did my best to make it worse, bouncing from despair to resentment and anger to near self-destruction.

Vision Quest

But I had been struggling for a direction and I found something close to it when I started working at this place. And I got to do some fun stories, like riding around with cops in Sunset Park and meeting some nice people, so it wasn’t a complete nightmare.

When I reached my doctor’s office I did a double take at the street sign. I saw that the block had been named in honor of the paper’s late publisher and my aging eyes nearly popped out of my head. They named a street after that guy? I fumed. What the hell did he ever do?

I knew I had vision problems but was I suffering from hallucinations, too? I suppose I could’ve raged on for the rest of the morning, but I did have a doctor’s appointment.

The place looked completely different on the inside, of course, seeing as it was now a doctor’s office. There was no trace of the crumbling dump where I literally punched a clock every day.

“This place was a mess when we got here,” the nurse told me. “We had to clean it all out.”

I’m not surprised. The Army Corps of Engineers would’ve probably needed a month to get through that hovel.

My doctor gave me a prescription for antibiotics to get rid of the eye infection and wrote up an order for reading glasses.

I felt relieved by the time I left. I was getting treatment for the infection and, more importantly, I had finally stopped lying to myself and admitted I needed glasses.

And I was feeling more charitable toward my past. If they wanted to name the street after my old publisher, so what? An additional sign on the lamppost wasn’t going to hurt anyone.

The old job is behind me; the place literally didn’t exist anymore, at least not at this location. It was time to do some cleaning of my own, flush out all that old grief and look forward.

I haven't gotten my glasses yet, but I think my vision is getting better already.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tango Solo

Well, what do you know? It really does take two to tango.

This rather obvious lesson was driven home to me in yet another one of my carnival side show dreams that, as usual, had me rolling out bed with a hearty cry of “what the hell?” before I was able to unravel its twisted message.

I should stress that this really wasn’t a nightmare, certainly not in comparison with some of the head-banging shock rides that I’ve suffered through over the years. This was more awkward than awful and it was also instructive.

In the dream I had volunteered to put on a tango demonstration for my coworkers at some kind of company function.

We already know it’s a dream because it has the words “volunteer” and “tango” attached to my name, which could never happen in the real world.

Obviously the tango is a partner dance, a beautiful, sensual experience that cannot possibly be performed by one person, especially if that person is me.

Tango advocates suggest that the dance “makes people feel more relaxed, sexier, and less depressed, and increases testosterone levels,” which sounds like something I should investigate.

There was a story about a French ambassador to Argentina who, when asked his opinion of the tango, said “we do the same thing in France, only lying down.”

Nevertheless, the emcee of this strange little affair called my name and as I walked up to the front of this darkened ballroom I wondered, how the hell did I get myself into this fiasco?

You’re On!

The host handed me a flashlight—don’t ask me why—and stepped back to let me strut my stuff.

But when I clicked the switch, nothing happened, and I stood there in the dark unable to do my act—whatever the hell it was.

I felt relieved not being able to dance and I apologized to my coworkers.

“But you can dance!” a fellow at a nearby table said encouragingly.

Things get hazy after that and I woke up a short time later, quite dazed and extremely confused.

However, I’m starting to decode the images in this odd vision and the results are quite telling.

The most obvious emotion here--and I almost missed it--is the longing for companionship. "Dancing With Myself" may have been a hit for Billy Idol, but it leaves a lot to be desired in real life.

I have also been in work situations where I was extremely unsure of myself, worried that I didn’t know how to do a particular job and frustrated that I was failing to fulfill my life’s purpose.

But I was so desperate to have a steady paycheck that I said “yes” to whatever was on the table.

That supportive voice in the dark? I think that person was a stand-in for some more assured part of myself or for family members who were trying to build my confidence.

When I was struggling with my math classes in high school, my dear mother would always encourage me by saying “you’re a smart boy!” That may be true but I can sure get myself into some pretty stupid circumstances.

I must confess that the image of a dysfunctional cylindrical object has phallic connotations that I’d rather not think about, so let us slide off in another direction.

I’m still stressed about some major issues in my life and I want to find something that truly suits my talents.

So there are some important lessons in this little delusion. Never lie about your skills, don’t get stuck in bad situations, and if someone asks you if you know how to do a one-man tango, for God’s sake keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Blood and Ashes

What else can be said at this point?

There was yet another mass shooting in America on Thursday.

Another isolated loner psychotic with access to all sorts of horrific weapons walked into a college in Oregon and shot nine people to death before killing himself.

As usual this massacre was followed by calls for gun control on one side and hysterical shrieking about Second Amendment rights, and the Founding Fathers and all the other happy horseshit the gun crowd drags out whenever bullet-riddled bodies start hitting the deck.

Churches, schools, theaters—places of worship, knowledge and entertainment--have all become potential slaughterhouses.

And what will happen? Not a fucking thing. If Sandy Hook couldn’t change anything in this sick, morally bankrupt and spiritually comatose country, nothing, absolutely nothing will.

We’ll go through the tired ritual with the goddamn candlelight vigils, we’ll see all the photos of the victims, hear from their heartbroken friends and family members, and that’s where it will end.

I don’t even know why I bother writing about it.

The gun lobby has bought up all the whoring politicians and those clowns aren’t about to give up all that cash, even if we had a mass-shooting every day of the week and two on Sunday.

If it ain’t your loved ones taking the lead, it’s all good.

This has been a particularly horrendous week for my country.

In addition to the Oregon massacre, the no-good lowlife Republican scumbags in Congress allowed the Zadroga Act, which provided medical monitoring and treatment to 9/11 responders, to expire.

I have a question: Are you fucking kidding me?

The terrible event that we would never forget, that George Bush used to push his bullshit war in Iraq, the one that St. Rudy has adopted as his personal property—you’re telling me that the people who actually risked their lives at Ground Zero and who are now suffering because of it, you’re leaving these people to die?

You lowlife motherless shitheels jump through hoops to give tax cuts to billionaires and corporations, but you can’t lift a finger for people who have actually done something for this country.

Distress Signal

I have another question: How do you fucking sleep at night?

The other day I said on my Facebook page that I hoped the kids and grandkids of all those GOPricks responsible for this atrocity come down with the same diseases that are afflicting the first responders.

Now that’s pretty harsh. I’ve had a few days to think it over and you know what? I still feel that way.
"I'm almost ashamed to be an American today," deputy FDNY chief Richard Alleys was quoted as saying after this disgraceful lack of action.

Almost? Not me, brother. I am thoroughly ashamed to be an American. This is not my country anymore.

I honestly don’t why my father and so many others fought for this nation if we're going to treat our people so abysmally just because they don’t have enough money to buy a political prostitute.

There is an all-out war on reality being waged in this country. People don’t like certain facts that shake up their worldview, so they’ll just dismiss them while waving the flag and thumping the bible.

A few examples: Trickle down economics. “Truther” conspiracy theories invented to claim mass shootings are faked. Bogus videos used to defund Planned Parenthood. Global warming deniers, Obama birthers and “death panels” supposedly brought on by the Affordable Care Act.

People who hold these beliefs aren’t conservative; they’re crazy.

Lunatics who at one time would be relegated to raving in public parks to a handful of amused onlookers are now being elected to national office.

Ridiculous accusations that wouldn’t have made it beyond a public lavatory wall a few years ago are now given serious consideration in some bizarre attempt at “balance.”

Balance is the one thing that’s missing from America as we become more polarized, more entranced with our crackpot theories.

See you at the next massacre…if we’re still alive.