Sunday, September 25, 2016

Making Book

My novel, Born Speaking Lies, is going to be published on Saturday.

That sounds so strange to me. After all the time, energy, and grief I put into the manuscript it’s a little hard to believe it’s actually going to be a book.

I’ve racked up an untold amount of rejections, and I got awfully close to a deal with one publisher a few years ago, but they turned me down because they don't do crime fiction.

Finally the lovely people at Fomite Press in Burlington, Vermont agreed to publish my story about a bunch of Brooklyn gangsters who raise a whole lot of hell between here and the Poconos.

And so here we go.

I started writing this book on a typewriter back when my parents were still alive, my two nieces had yet to be born, and Reagan was president.

Now I can’t honestly say I’ve worked on the book for all those years—not even close. I’d put it aside, take up some other project that I was certain would pay off handsomely, only to see that effort come up empty.

Take it from one who knows, multitasking is the biggest scam of the century. All you get for your misguided efforts is a pile of half-finished projects and a whole lot of frustration.

And I’d rewrite and revise, over and over. Something wouldn’t look right and I’d tear it up and start all over again. In one sense I’ve actually written several books.

In that time I moved from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania to Connecticut and then back to Brooklyn, taking various versions of the story with me from place to place.

I rejoiced in becoming an uncle twice, changed jobs God alone knows how many times, saw my parents grow and die, and bid farewell to our family home.

Chapter and Verse

All the while the book was looming in the background someplace waiting for the next rewrite.

I have to ask myself did I really want to finish it or did I just want to keep on revising the manuscript until I traded my keyboard for a harp.

The thing about constant rewriting is that you can tell yourself how great your work is going to be when it’s finished without ever having to produce the goods.

I thought about giving up, too, going on to a different story. But now that I’ve held the book in my hands, seen my name on the cover and read my words on the pages, I’m very glad and thankful that I kept going.

Now I have to publicize the book, which feels uncomfortable after all of these years as a reporter. I’m used to PR people pitching ideas to me; it’s weird contacting reporters and trying to get some ink.

I’m terrified that people will hate the book, that it’s not good enough, that I’ve deluded myself into thinking I could write a novel.

But that’s just more negativity that I don’t need. I have to remind myself that I’ve done something that millions of people have promised to do but never delivered: I’ve written a book.

I’ll be starting up on the next book soon and this time I’m going to organize my thoughts better and cut down on the rewrites. This time I’m going to take less time.

I dedicated the book to my parents, though I know my mother would not have approved of the salty language that appears throughout the story. (Sorry, Mom)

I simply say to them “wish you were here.” And those are the truest words I’ve ever written.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Most Peculiar Man

He lived all alone, within a house, within a room, within himself, a most peculiar man. — Simon & Garfunkel

So what was that all about?

I recently ran into a former coworker while walking up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which is pretty amazing given the size and population of this city.

But what I find even more intriguing was the strange relationship—if that’s even the right word for it—that I had with this man while we working together.

Most of the time we’d pass each other in the hall and this guy would cast his eyes to the floor and walk by me as if I were invisible.

But every so often this very same man, who took such great pains to avoid eye contact with me most days of the year, would suddenly start a lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with me.

He’d talk about movies or something that was happening at work as if we were old friends.

And then the very next day this fellow would jump right back into his old routine of refusing to acknowledge my existence. It was like working with Hailey’s Comet.

I’m notoriously thin-skinned and I can take offense faster than a speeding email, but for some reason this dude’s behavior didn’t upset me. I was more fascinated than annoyed by his actions.

I didn’t see him as rude or standoffish; he just had a different way of doing things. And while this may be hard to believe, there are actually some people who think I’m a little strange. Shocking, no?

I didn’t pester the guy and try to force him into a conversation because I knew that approach would fail. The man would talk when and if he was ready.

And He Wasn't Like Them...

I just wonder what made him drop the silent treatment on those rare occasions and start speaking with me.

Was it the changing of the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the alignment of the stars? Why did he become so talkative after months of silence?

Usually people at the office speak to you or they don’t. I prefer some semblance of civility on the job—even if it’s just a quick nod—as opposed to the straight ahead zombie stare, but not all people are like that.

I’ve made some great friends on various jobs—people I still keep in contact with to this day—but I’ve also been surprised by former coworkers who abruptly delete me from their lives as soon as one of us gets a new gig.

It’s like you cease to exist in their minds the second you clear out your desk. It has been very disappointing, but, once again, you can’t force anyone to be your friend.

I have since left that job and started another, only to have that position yanked out from underneath me in August when the publication shut down.

But now—big news!--the magazine is being revived under new management and I’ve been offered my old job back. So the bears didn’t get me after all.

Naturally I am thankful and quite relieved as I have some big bills heading my way. Under the new arrangement I’ll be working from my home, something I’ve wanted to do for years.

I hate commuting with a passion. It’s time wasted and that’s on a good day. On a bad day it’s a blueprint for mass murder. So now I won’t be dealing with traffic, office cafeterias, or coworkers—talkative or otherwise.

My family has warned me about being isolated in this new arrangement and I will do my best to get out and away from my desk. And I have to clean up my computer room because I’m going to spend a lot of time in here.

I never did get to speak with my former coworker when I saw him that day on Fifth Avenue.

Our eyes met for a second and I know I saw a flash of recognition before he looked away and kept on walking. And so did I.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Endless Day

I climbed up the steps of Liberty Plaza on Thursday morning and looked for the spot where I was standing when the planes hit the World Trade Center 15 years ago.

I was a little early this year, making my annual pilgrimage to the place outside the Brooks Brothers store a few days ahead of today’s memorial services.

My sister and I are going to the theater this afternoon, so I wanted to make sure I stopped by Ground Zero to say my prayers for those we lost and give thanks that I survived that day.

It all looks so different now. The Freedom Tower complex is rising from the location where the Twin Towers once stood before they were destroyed and turned into a mass graveyard by a handful of psychotics in two hijacked jet liners.

While I was taking photos a couple of fire engines came flying up the street with their sirens blaring and I almost jumped out of my skin. Sirens provided the soundtrack for 9/11.

It’s been 15 years since I stood here in a crowd watching the North Tower burn; 15 years since the South Tower exploded right before our eyes as the second plane struck the building, and we all began running, screaming, and praying to God.

Fifteen years since the normally easy commute home to Bay Ridge became the longest day of my life.

It was my father’s 80th birthday and my mother was in the hospital suffering from the lung disease that would take her from us less than a year later. The staff at Lutheran Medical Center had moved her out of Intensive Care in anticipation of receiving thousands of casualties from the falling towers.

But those injured people never arrived because you either got out of the Trade Center alive on 9/11 or you didn’t get out at all.

Please don’t ask me if I feel we’ve learned anything from this atrocity because other than getting accustomed to long lines at the airport, I don’t think we learned a goddamn thing.

Since 9/11 we’ve had the war in Iraq, “Mission Accomplished,” terrorist attacks all over the world, and nonsensical rants about mass deportations and building walls along the Mexican border.

Our response to all the hatred and insanity that we witnessed on September 11 appears to be more hatred and more insanity.

“A Better World Shall Emerge…”

And I don’t excuse myself from this harsh assessment. After the towers fell and then the air finally cleared, I joined the thousands of people walking over the Manhattan Bridge.

I remember telling a woman I had befriended that I was done complaining about every single thing, that I was quite content with the life I had and that I didn’t have to be rich and famous in order to be happy.

But time passes, you forget how terrified you were that morning, and you start to piss and moan about the most meaningless crap.
As I write this I’ve got the TV on and I’m listening to the names of the victims being read at Ground Zero by their family members. It brings tears to my eyes, but it’s something we all need to hear.

When I went to Hawaii last December I took a tour of the USS Missouri where Japan formally surrendered and ended World War II.

"It is my earnest hope,” General Douglas McArthur said on the morning of September 2, 1945, “indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice."

During the war, a kamikaze pilot crashed into the Missouri, but he only succeeded in killing himself. Historians believe the pilot was Setsuo Ishino, who was 19 years old at the time.

There are photos of the pilot as a young man, looking so serious, but there’s also a picture of him as a little boy posing with his family and holding a toy airplane in his hand. (The irony is astounding.)

He’s about five years old in the photo and I wonder what happened to him, how did his mind get so warped in such a relatively short amount of time that he willingly destroyed himself in an attempt to kill other young men.

What happened to that little boy with the toy airplane?

I wonder about the 9/11 hijackers and all the other suicide attackers who imagine that mass slaughter is some kind of holy cause. How did they get so twisted, so depraved, and how the hell can we stop it?

Yes, I’m disappointed that we haven’t learned much from 9/11, but when I’m feeling really depressed, I recall those who gave so much on that day—the firefighters, police, and EMTs.

I think of those wonderful people who were waiting for us on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, who offered us bottles of water and the use of their cell phones.

I think of that fabulous man who drove down Fourth Avenue in his SUV when the subways shut down and helped me and so many others get home to our families.

I remember all those people and I think maybe a better world shall emerge after all.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Holy Angel

Daniel Fitzpatrick and I had a lot in common.

We both went to the same grammar school, which was called Our Lady of Angels in my day, but is now called Holy Angels Catholic Academy.

And we were both bullied in the seventh grade. The only difference is that I made it out of grammar school alive while Daniel didn’t.

Daniel Fitzpatrick hanged himself last month inside his family’s Staten Island home. His 17-year-old sister found him in the attic with a belt wrapped around his neck.

In a letter documenting his abuse, Daniel said that he was bullied by a group of five boys at the school.

“They did it constantly,” he wrote. “I ended up fighting (one boy) and got a fractured pinkie…I wanted to get out. I begged and pleaded.”

Reading about Daniel’s experiences brought back some ugly memories of my time in Catholic school, which was pretty much a nightmare from beginning to end.

My seventh year was particularly rough as there was this one fat bastard in my class who took an instant dislike to me for reasons I never did understand.

There was always some insult every time I came into class. Maybe he took his self-loathing out on me or maybe he had been bullied because of his weight and he was paying the misery forward.

But to be brutally honest I really don’t give a shit about him or his problems. All I know is that he made my life a living hell.

This was the year I started getting sick, where I would come home from school, collapse in my bed and sleep for hours.

The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and they finally decided to put me in Lutheran Medical Center for 10 days so they could do all sorts of tests under one roof.

Looking back, I realize how frightened my parents must’ve been since my symptoms matched up with a lot of serious diseases.

The children’s ward was a cesspool back then with peeling images of Mickey Mouse and other cartoon characters on the wall and my parents had the hospital put me in a room with three men who seemed ancient to me at the time, though they were probably younger than I am today.

No Exit

In the end the doctors decided I was suffering from what was then called growing pains and I was discharged from the hospital on the first Earth Day, April 22 1970.

But now I have to wonder if my sickness was in any way related to the relentless bullying I had to endure.

I might have been legitimately ill, but then maybe my subconscious mind was making me sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school and face the fat bastard. It’s hard to say.

I’d like to tell you that I had stood up to the bully; that I met up with him after school, beat the living crap out of him and taught him a lesson he would never forget--just like the movies.

But that didn’t happen. I just took all his shit and quite possibly made myself sick.

Daniel Fitzpatrick fought with one of his tormentors and all he got for his trouble was a broken pinkie. And the bullying continued.

And unlike me, he reported his abuse, though his family maintains the school did nothing about it. A spokeswoman for the Brooklyn/Queens Diocese told the New York Daily News that “we take the issue of bullying very seriously and address every incident that is brought to our attention.”

I didn’t tell anyone, even though my father asked me at one point if someone at school was picking on me.

But I said no because I was ashamed and I didn’t want to be called a squealer, or a faggot, or a pussy, or any of those other colorful terms that kids use.

I eventually got through 7th grade and by the next year the fat bastard had lost interest in me.

I try to forgive my tormenter for my own good, but I confess there’s a black corner of my heart that hopes—even after all this time—that someone put him through the same kind of grief that he inflicted upon me.

I’m horrified that someone as young as Daniel was driven to kill himself. But in a child’s mind there is no future, everything is right now and it’s nearly impossible to believe things will ever get better.

I’ve had personal experience with suicidal thoughts and I know that once the self-destruct countdown begins it’s very difficult to abort. You shut off all rational arguments and possibilities as you fixate on ending all your suffering.

I wish I could’ve met Daniel. I would’ve told him to hold on, that childhood may seem long, but it’s really so incredibly brief, and that there are so many good things to be experienced in this life.

I would’ve told him that there are more good people than bad people and that those who loved him are far more important than those few classmates who were talking trash about him.

I never knew Daniel Fitzpatrick but I know the world is a darker place without him. Rest in peace.