Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sir Rob of Dallas

I got the text shortly after 5pm last Sunday night.

Hello, Sir Rob,” it said. “How are you?

It was a message from the cab driver who would be taking me back to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport two days hence, and I got such a kick out of being called “Sir Rob” that I think I’ll start signing my checks that way.

My driver, a Bangladeshi man who has lived in Dallas for 17 years, was a real hustler.

I was in the Lone Star State on business so I didn’t get a chance to see the sites, and since my hotel was on a street with virtually nothing but other hotels I can’t tell you much about the third largest city in Texas.

I did get to visit the George Bush Presidential Library on my last night in town, and, well, let’s just say that fantasy is best left to the folks at Disney. At least they try to be entertaining when they make shit up.

I mean, seriously, people—“Bush,” “Presidential” and “Library”—those are three words that don’t belong together under any circumstances.

I also managed to work myself up into a serious case of the heebie-jeebies for absolutely no reason, which really isn’t news given the way I’ve chosen to live my life.

I was worried about missing the plane. I was worried about not missing the plane. I was worried about losing my luggage, losing my laptop and losing my job.

The only thing I wasn’t worried about losing was my mind as I had already said, “Vaya con Dios” to anything vaguely resembling sanity a long time ago.

One of the highlights of the trip occurred at my hotel’s health club as I stumbled on one of the treadmills early Tuesday morning.

The treadmill is one of my least favorite exercise routines. I much prefer my boxing class where I work hard with a bunch of great people, as opposed to going nowhere fast all by myself. That’s just a little too close to life for my taste.

All Hat

My mind was in about a dozen different places, as usual, but I finally got hold of enough of the present moment to notice a white-haired lady chugging away two treadmills down.

She wasn’t moving very fast, but she was determined and methodical. She must’ve been at it for at least a half-hour and when she finally stopped I just had to speak with her.

“I’m impressed,” I said as she wiped down the machine.
“I’m 68 years old,” she told me, “and I like to stay active.”

“I’m going to be 60 in May,” I said. “So life goes on?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. “No problem.”

She told me she was from Iowa, wished me well, and then she was gone.

We only spoke for about 30 seconds, but I’m so happy I met this woman. She was the best thing that happened to me in Dallas—even better than the George Bush Library.

My driver picked up right on time on Tuesday afternoon and gently chided me for not visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, which wasn’t far from my hotel.

The museum examines the life of John Kennedy and given my father’s undying adoration of JFK, I wish I had checked the place out. Another time, perhaps, when I’m traveling on my own dime.

“Are you married or single, sir?” my driver asked.

“Single.”

“Oh, you should’ve told me,” he said. “I would’ve taken you to some clubs.”

See? I told you he was a hustler. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, but noted that my clubbing days are well behind me.

So now I’m back in Brooklyn and none of the things I worried about actually happened. I have no immediate travel plans, but I’m thinking that I’d like to visit Iowa some day and see what makes the people there so happy.

Sir Rob needs to get off the treadmill.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

I stood at the top of the stairs and watched my father emerge from the basement carrying a stack of presents.

This was Christmas Eve, God alone knows how many years ago, and I had gotten out of bed to investigate the sounds I heard coming from downstairs.

We lived on the second floor of our house back then, and the stairs leading to the cellar had a medieval dungeon look to them, disappearing quickly into a critical shade of blackness that seemed to defy the strongest beams of light.

Our cellar was something of an underground junkyard. We put just about everything down there—old clothes, furniture, books--even a couple of refrigerators. Why the hell we didn’t just go ahead and throw this crap out I can’t rightly say.

At the bottom stairs was this small storeroom and one of my brother’s had scrawled “Frankenstein Lives Here” across the room’s green wooden door in an attempt to frighten me. I maintained I wasn’t scared at all, but I avoided that room until I was a teenager.

I kept watching my dad climb the stairs until he looked up and saw me.

“Get back to bed!” he snapped and I quickly did what I was told.

This may have been Christmas, but my dad had a rough temper and could connect with his inner Frankenstein with alarming speed.

Strangely, this was not the night that I suddenly realized that there was no Santa, no elves, and no eight tiny reindeer.

Yes, Virginia…

No, my illusion wasn’t shattered on this particular holiday.

I kept a firm grip on my loyalty to Kris Kringle and reasoned that Santa must have left the presents in our cellar—we didn’t have a fireplace—so my father could bring them upstairs and put them under the tree when he was ready.

Santa was real, I decided, and Dad’s just helping him out.

I was so committed to the fantasy that I refused to believe what I was seeing with my own eyes: a hard-working, flawed man lugging a pile of brightly wrapped presents that he probably couldn’t afford.
I didn’t tell my siblings about seeing Dad on the stairs because in my mind there was no news to report.

Christmas happened as it always did and my faith in Santa Claus and all the surrounding mythology was as solid as the tree standing in our living room.

I believed in Santa for a few more years until the magic of Christmas gave way to the reality of shopping in crowded stores, wrapping presents and eating too much.

I live alone now in a third-floor walkup and the only person who climbs the stairs on Christmas Eve, or any other night, is me. I don’t put up a tree or any decorations, but I’m thinking now maybe I should try and make the apartment look more festive.

But I still remember the little boy standing so high over the gloom, so devoted the man who sees you when you’re sleeping, who knows when you’re awake.

We all have a bit of a Saint Nick and a bit of the monster inside us. We’re all balanced on the brink of darkness, waiting to see which one is climbing up the stairs.



(I'm posting a little early this week as I have to fly to Dallas tomorrow on business. Take care, one and all)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Web Slinger

Now I’ll have to write something else.

My author’s website is finally up and running and it looks so funky I can’t believe it’s about me.

The site is an online marketing tool for my novel Born Speaking Lies and I'm just crazy about it.

The amazing Ed Velandria, the web designer who somehow made sense out of all my gibberish, put together this slick film noir site complete with review copy, a synopsis of the novel, some eerie images, and a mug shot of yours truly.

There are also links to Amazon and Fomite Press, my publisher, for easy ordering. (No pressure)

Ed handed me the reins to the site on Friday, an evening that came so close to being a fiasco of epic proportions that I’m still shuddering at the memory.

We had planned to meet at the Wholefoods in Park Slope at 3rd Third Street and Third Avenue.

On Friday afternoon Ed sent me an email requesting a change in time, but I completely misread the message and mistakenly believed we were going to meet on Saturday, the following day.

At least that’s what I believed until Friday night when I got a text from Ed telling me that he was at the Wholefoods and gently asking just where the hell I was. Oh, shit…

I let Ed know I was on the way and called car service. The first outfit had a 20-minute wait, which was totally out of the question, but the next company told me they’d send someone over in five minutes.

The car arrived, I jumped in, and prayed we wouldn’t hit traffic. And then, as we got onto the BQE, everything took a sharp turn down Freak Street.

Fare is Foul and Foul is Fare

“How much they say to charge you?” my driver, a rather bulky Middle Easter man, asked while fumbling with his phone.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I forgot to ask.”

“They tell me $16,” the driver said. “That’s too much. You call dispatcher and ask why he charge that.”

Me? I’m the passenger and I wasn’t complaining. Why is he getting upset? But I did as I was told, calling the front office and politely inquiring about the fare.

“That’s what it says on the map,” the dispatcher replied, sounding almost as confused as I was. “Why is he dragging you into the middle of it?”

“I’m not sure.”
We rang off and then, as we flew down the highway, my driver made some calls and became speaking excitedly in Arabic.

Meanwhile I sat quietly looking out the window and wondering how badly I'd get hurt if I opened the door and jumped out of the car.

“Dispatcher won’t take my call,” the driver said. “So I call owner and he said to charge you $13, not $16.”

“Well, thank you,” I said, stunned but relieved. “I really appreciate your efforts.”

Now I don’t want to be all self-centered and paranoid and say that shit like this only happens to me…but shit like this only happens to me!

We got downtown without any further weirdness, I met up with Ed and promptly fell in love with my site.

I’m currently looking to set up a book launch party and some bookstore signings, and yes, I’ve started work on a new project.

I’ll probably have another meeting with Ed when my next work comes out to update the site, but this time I think I’ll take the bus.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Rube Tube

I finally entered the 21st Century last week and my metacarpals couldn’t be happier.

For the last several months I have been living (suffering) with a hopelessly outdated TV that has been in our family since the 1990s.

It was a good set back when Bill Clinton was president and I must say that it did hang in there for a very long time.

But recently the picture tube started to go seriously bad. The image would shut down to a single straight line across the screen before snapping back to normal. Then it got worse.

That line would be the first thing I saw when I turned the set on and I had to apply some “percussive maintenance” just to get a picture, which is to say that I smacked the living bejesus out of the thing to keep it from turning into a radio.

I felt like a character from some kitchen-sink drama or a lifelong trailer park inhabitant. All I needed was a sleeveless t-shirt.

Naturally this behavior did wonders for my mental health. I’d finish my morning meditation and qigong sessions, feeling all mellow and spiritual only to turn around and rock my chakras from pillar to post as I fumed, cursed, and bashed the ailing appliance into submission.

It got so bad toward the end that I actually cracked the top of the set—and severely injured my wrist in the process.

Yes, obviously I had to get a new TV, but you’re talking to someone who dodges the obvious the way Count Dracula avoids garlic.

On top of this I have an irrational fear of modern devices, convinced that I’ll never be able to figure them out. And I proceed to confirm that dread by studiously refusing to educate myself about their usage. Vicious cycle, anyone?

Better Living Through Television

I was certain I would waste a pile of money on the “wrong” TV—whatever the hell that means.

I also have this propensity for staying in lousy situations much longer than necessary. Jobs, relationships, you know name it. If it sucks, I’ll pitch a tent right in the middle of it all and put out the welcome mat.

This year’s lack of job security didn’t help matters any, of course, so when I landed my old gig back again, my sister very kindly drove me to Best Buy where we picked out a dandy Samsung flat screen.
Now I should’ve researched this a little better, given the size of the investment.

There were more complex—and expensive—models available, but I got jittery about that “wrong TV” thing and went for the low maintenance machine.

And it will do just fine.

We sprinted over to Costco to get a new DVD player and I was ready to join the machine age.

My new TV is such a blast. I can get YouTube, NetFlix and other great stations without dope-slapping the thing all over the living room. I feel like Flash Gordon.

I don’t have the dread in the pit of my stomach when I reach for the remote now and I can stop terrorizing the neighbors with my low rent Stanley Kowalski impersonation.

Now when the time comes for this TV to go to that big appliance store in the sky, I will act quickly and decisively to get a replacement.

My wrists can’t take any more abuse.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Moses Supposes

Moses is American Express.

He’s not Visa, he’s not Mastercard, and he’s sure as hell ain’t no Discover Card. No, Moses is most definitely American Express.

I have no idea what this means, but I have it on good authority from a raving psychotic who accosted me on Broadway far too early one morning last week.

I remember when Karl Malden did a series of commercials for the American Express card back in the Seventies that ended with the line “don’t leave home without it,” but he never said anything about Moses.

Anyway, this strange little incident happened on one of my gym days in lower Manhattan where I’m up and on the road before the sun has even brushed its teeth.

I was walking up Broadway to the New York Sport Club’s City Hall gym for my 7am boxing class. It was cold, dark, and windy, and I had my hood pulled up over my head and my eyes aimed down at the sidewalk.

I sensed someone behind me as I walked by St. Paul’s Chapel and then I heard a voice coming from over my shoulder.

“Moses is not who you think!”

Moses is not who I think? No offense, but I honestly don’t think about Moses much during the course of the day.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just that I have a lot of things to do and pondering over a man who wandered the desert 3000 years ago isn’t high on my list of priorities.

I slowed down and moved to my right to let this fellow get ahead of me. He was young with some kind of colorful skullcap and fairly decent clothes, so I don’t think he was homeless. Nuts, yes, but not homeless.

He continued ranting about something I didn’t quite understand and I thought this would be an excellent time for us to part company.

Roll the Credits

As I moved toward my left for a detour down Vesey Street, my new companion moved in front of me and I got the distinct feeling he was trying to block my way.

Broadway was eerily devoid of life at that time of the morning, a striking contrast to the bustling scene it would be in just an hour or so when the sun would be up and these empty streets would be crammed with people and traffic.

At that moment, though, I was very much on my own.

The fellow kept rambling and throwing looks over his shoulder, directing his gibberish in my direction. The gym was a few doors away and, as I got closer, he started moving toward me, jabbering the whole time.

I was getting a littler nervous. I love my boxing class but I certainly wasn’t itching for a street brawl. It was unnerving the way he seemed to single me out, as if I had wronged him in some way.

Where’s Karl Malden when you need him?

And I mistakenly tried to apply logic to the situation, wondering what I had done to him. But he wasn’t thinking logically. He wasn’t thinking at all.

“Moses is American Express,” he suddenly shouted as if he had discovered the meaning of life. “Moses is American Express!”

He made some kind of gesture at me and marched up Broadway while I checked into my gym and tried to put him out of my mind.

I accept the fact that roving lunatics are a part of big city life and even Mayberry has its share of nutbags. But its unnerving to be the target of some freak’s random rage.

I need to be more aware of my surroundings, especially at that time of the morning. Moses can take care of himself.