Sunday, March 27, 2016

Perfect Gentleman

I saw the old timer taking aim, but I couldn’t believe he was pointing that thing at me.

And then he took my picture.

I gave him a “what the hell?” look and he took another picture of me.

This was London, 1993 and I was finally visiting the grand old city after threatening to make the trip for ages. Apparently someone had alerted the local media.

The old fellow approached me and explained that he was a photographer who wanted me to have a memento of my trip to his hometown.

It pains me to admit this but my appearance must have screamed “tourist” as I was bearing a camera, guidebook, and a rather clueless look on my face. New Yorkers are obsessed with being in the know so it was a little disheartening to be pegged so easily by one of the locals.

The old guy wasn’t taking snaps of my mug out of the goodness of his heart, of course. He offered to send me copies of his work for a nominal fee.

But instead of telling him to get lost and that no one had asked him to take my goddamn picture I asked if he had a smaller package.

We agreed upon a price, I gave him my address in Pennsylvania where I was living at the time and a couple of pound notes, and he promised to mail the photos to me as soon as possible.

This was back when people used film instead of taking photos with their phones and you had to wait for your pictures to be developed.

“I could tell you were a gentleman,” he told me. “And you know what they say: You can always tell a gentleman, but you can’t tell him much.”

We both laughed and I walked away, so proud of myself for negotiating this deal. I went another few feet before I realized what had really happened.

I had just given cash to a total stranger in a foreign country.

I couldn’t believe my rank stupidity. Yes, I was living in a small town, but I had been born in Brooklyn for God’s sake, I was supposed to be street smart. I wasn’t supposed to be out-hustled by an arthritic retiree with an Instamatic.

I was so furious with myself that I wanted to march right over to Trafalgar Square and ram my head against Nelson’s Column while shouting “schmuck, schmuck, schmuck!”

However, I decided to forgive myself and refrain from bleeding all over the admiral. No vacation would be complete without some kind of blunder or slip-up and I’d just had mine.

Now it was time for me to meet another colorful character. I was walking through Piccadilly Circus when I ran into an Australian man who was also on vacation. As soon as I told him I was from Brooklyn, he pretended to be horrified.

Wanna Bet?

“Get away from me,” he declared. “You people are so violent!”

I laughed and we wound up going to lunch together. I don’t remember much about our conversation after all these years, but I do recall that this man had a great sense of humor and a propensity to gamble.

It seemed he wanted to bet about just anything that came up. Somehow we started talking about Gerald Ford, who became president after Richard Nixon resigned and who lost to Jimmy Carter—so he was never actually elected to the office.

Well, this man was convinced that Ford had been elected president and bet me 20 pounds that he was right.

“We’ll get to the library after lunch,” he said, since there was no Google back then.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t want to bet with you. We’re having a good time here, let’s just enjoy ourselves.”

My friend smiled and shook his head.

“You’re a good bloke, Rob,” he said, “but don’t you take enough chances.”

That’s a safe bet. I’ve always been far too cautious and it’s cost me dearly. It took me three years to get to London because of my fear of flying.

We wrapped up lunch without making any more wagers, I wished him well, and I returned to Pennsylvania to regale my coworkers with endless vacation stories.

And then one day I get this envelope in the mail with funny-looking stamps on it. The spelling of my last name had been butchered beyond belief—Levitlav? Seriously?—but it was most definitely addressed to me.

I was shocked. I tore the envelope open and they there were, a handful of photographs of me wandering around London. So I hadn’t been ripped off after all.

My street corner shutterbug had come through like a real gentleman and I was so glad that I hadn’t head-butted Admiral Nelson.

I brought the photos into work the next day and told my friends about the whole episode.

“That’s one vacation story we hadn’t heard before,” one colleague sarcastically noted.

Well, yes, I wasn’t about to proclaim to the world what a rube I had been.

I recently found that envelope with its atrocious spelling, but the photos themselves are missing and presumed lost somewhere in my apartment.

I’m thinking more about that man’s advice on taking more chances. I’m at a crossroads in my life right now and ready for something different.

Maybe I’ll go to Australia. But I'm not posing for any pictures.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Full Boar

Who let the hogs out?

I had another yet one of my carnival sideshow dreams last night and while portions of it actually made some kind of twisted sense, the sudden appearance of two randy porkers has got me rather confused—and a little worried.

Okay, so in this latest psychotic episode, I’m riding a motorcycle, which by the way, I don’t own in real life, and I’m heading to my 9:30 AM cycling class at the New York Sports Club’s 86th Street gym.

Now that part is real. I go to that class every Saturday morning and it’s great.

The instructor is a talented young woman who manages to mix warmth and humor in with a punishing workout. She insists that we sing along with her musical selections, probably to take our minds off the abuse.

She even had me gagging out “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—and I damn near had one. On top of that, she’s into astrology and, upon learning that we’re the same sign, she promptly dubbed me “Mr. Gemini.”

Now in the dream I’m looking in vain for a parking spot for the motorcycle and I’m kicking myself for not walking to the gym like I do every week.

I checked my watch and saw that the class had started and I had missed my weekly dose of cardio karaoke.

And then it got weird.

As I drove around in my vehicle, which had inexplicably morphed into a car, I looked out the window and saw two massive and very fluffy boars frolicking on the street corner.

And I when I say “frolicking” I mean they were getting incredibly cozy and were seconds away from going hog wild right there in public. Hey, get a sty, will you?

Now I’m sure most people don’t need to be told this, but I’ll say it anyway: we don’t have wild swine, fluffy or otherwise, roaming the streets of Brooklyn.

Hamming It Up

I grabbed my phone to get a picture of the lecherous duo as they crossed the street, but, as often happens in my waking life, I had trouble getting the damn thing to focus.

By the time I looked up the pigs had shape-shifted into Shetland ponies. They were a little less horny, but not by much. And we don’t have Shetland ponies in Brooklyn either, in case you were wondering.

I woke up thinking, “Gosh, that was messed up. I wonder what it meant.” Then I remembered: I had forgotten to register for my cycling class.

I ran to my computer to see if I could sign up at this late date, but I was shoat out of luck. The class was full.

Now this sucked. I was supposed to join my Meet-Up group for a Chinatown dumpling rampage on Saturday afternoon, where I planned to shamelessly pig out, you should pardon the expression.

Now what was I going to do? The Sunday cycling sessions were all full, I didn’t feel like doing any of the cardio classes, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to skip working out this weekend after gorging on all that food.
I’m Catholic, for Christ’s sake, how could I possibly enjoy myself without suffering first?

Finally I decided to take a boxing class at the NYSC facility on Mercer Street, which is a short walk from Chinatown.

I had a tremendous workout, met up with my friends, and stuffed myself with all manner of delightful dishes.

I’m wondering about that dream, though. I understand that being late for my class was my mind’s coded way of telling me I had forgotten to register for the cycling workout.

But what’s with the fluffy hog-ponies? Why were there two of them? And why the hell couldn’t they control themselves?

Perhaps the Mr. Gemini nickname caused me to think of things in twos. I suppose their lustful behavior reveals my subconscious view of carnal desires.

But maybe the animal imagery wasn’t so much dirty or pornographic, as it was natural, relaxed, and uninhibited—pretty much everything I’m not. Maybe I was telling myself to lighten up a little bit and enjoy life.

I made sure to register for this Saturday’s cycling class. I love the Mercer Street boxing workout and I intend to go back soon, and I’ll definitely be doing another dumpling run.

And I’ll keep my camera ready in case I spot any horny hogs.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Prima Faccia

One night nearly 20 years ago, I got off the R train at Bay Ridge Avenue after a long day at work and saw that Hollywood had come to my neighborhood.

A TV production crew was shooting an episode of Law & Order at a local carpet store on Fourth Avenue and 68th Street and when I looked across the street I could clearly see Jerry Orbach, who played the veteran detective Lennie Briscoe, talking to another actor inside the store.

It was quite a thrill having one of my favorite TV shows being shot so close to home.

I hung around for a little while, but it looked like the crew was going to be there for most of the evening and I finally went home.

I’ve always been a Law & Order fan and I’ve come across a few of the “murder” scenes being shot throughout New York in the two decades that the show aired.

It's such a New Yorky show and now it was in my backyard.

I was thinking about this particular episode this week and realized that it would be rather difficult to track it down since I didn’t know the title and I hadn’t thought to Google “Bay Ridge” and Law & Order.

And then in the middle of one of many Law & Order marathons that crop up all over the cable channels, I started watching a 1998 episode entitled “Faccia a Faccia”—Italian for “Face to Face”—and there was the local carpet store, which has long since closed.

The scene only lasted a few minutes and there were no exterior shots, so you didn’t get a look at my hometown, but I was satisfied knowing that I had been there when it happened.

Now I have to say that there are few things more addictive to a TV junkie than a Law & Order marathon. A number of cable stations run the episodes with no commercials in between, so while one show is ending the next one is starting right up.

These Are Their Stories…

The Sundance Channel actually ran a title that reads “You have the right to remain…seated!

And if you’re not careful that’s just what will happen.

I fall into this pattern where I tell myself, okay, just stick around for the body discovery scene and then turn off the TV.

But then I’ll want to see the detectives look for suspects and then I’ll want to see them make the arrest, and by that time I’ll just have to see if they’ll convict the bastard and there’s another hour down the tubes.

As I watched this particular episode I was surprised to see how many people I recognized appearing in supporting roles.

At one point the detectives interviewed a peanut stand vendor portrayed by Aasif Mandvi, who, among other things, was a correspondent on The Daily Show.

I had the pleasure of seeing him portray Melchior in the Williamstown Theater 2008 production of Tom Stoppard’s On The Razzle, a wildly funny show that includes the classic line “Classic!” (You'll have to see it to understand what I'm talking about.)

“Faccia a Faccia” also features Michael Rispoli as a hitman and he starred in a fabulous little movie called Two-Family House, where he played an incurable dreamer living in 1950s Staten Island. Katherine Narducci plays the hitman’s girlfriend in Law & Order--and she portrayed Rispoli’s wife in Two-Family House.

Just a few days ago I came across a beautiful recording of Jerry Orbach singing “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks that includes a series of photographs of the late singer and actor as a young man. It’s a bit painful to watch.

I don’t know if these various tidbits prove anything except that I have too much time on my hands, but I have to say I’m glad I exercised my right to stay seated and watch all these threads come together.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Moose Call

And now the time has come when I must ask myself am I a man or a moose?

No, that’s not a typo. I really do mean “moose” and I’ll tell you why.

Many years ago I watched a TV news report that described how an alarming number of moose where being killed by freight trains in Alaska.

The moose were walking on the railroad tracks to avoid struggling through the deep snow, which seemed logical, but they weren’t getting out of the way of oncoming trains, which seemed crazy.

The poor moose couldn’t grasp that their lives were quite literally on the line--even as the trains were bearing down on them.

The news crew actually filmed one of these tragic encounters and while the footage thankfully did not show a moose meeting its maker, it did feature the unmistakable sound of a body being struck by a massive object.

I remember being quite amazed at just how dense the moose were. Here’s this mile-long line of railroad cars coming straight at them and they made no attempt to save themselves.

I felt badly—and I still do—about this senseless slaughter, but I found it nearly impossible to believe that any animal on God’s snowy earth could ever be that clueless.

This was the worst thing to come out of Alaska since Sarah Palin, who should probably avoid train tracks, too.

Questions and Antlers

A lot of time has passed since that news report and, as I take stock of my current employment situation and make plans for the future, I find my thoughts drifting back to those poor moose blindly blundering to their deaths for the sake of an easier walk.

It pains me to admit this, but I’m starting to see some eerie and disturbing similarities between me and my four-legged brethren.

There have been far too many times in both my career and personal life where I have faced some very serious problems, but refused to acknowledge their existence—until it was too late.

You could almost hear the thud as the freight train of life ran right over me.

I’ve been upset, dissatisfied, and downright miserable with so many jobs that I’ve held, but did I make any serious attempt to turn things around, move on, or get the hell out? Why, no, I didn’t.

And the same applies to any number of personal relationships. Either I or my partner—or both of us—were extremely unhappy, but, once again, I took no action and my butt wound up on the cowcatcher.

There’s obviously some serious denial going on, a chronic refusal to acknowledge reality. And I am much too eager to dive headfirst into the comfort zone.

The zone may suck hairy moose balls, but at least it’s familiar, and I don’t have to worry about doing anything different—until the choo-choo chews me up and spits me out.

Ignoring the warning signs in love or work won’t make your problems go away. It’ll just guarantee that your head winds up on somebody’s wall.

I hope the moose finally figure out that they're in mortal danger. As for myself, I’m going to keep my ear to the tracks and get out of the way long before the train shows up.