Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of Seventeen

When David Cassidy died in November the last thing he said before he left this world was “so much wasted time.”

Those words came back to me today as I sit in the hospital lounge waiting for 2017 to end.

The new year will start in a few hours, and while I won’t be doing much to celebrate, at least I can take stock of my life.

Since my movements are so severely restricted, I’ve been taking a closer look at what goes on in my brain and I don’t particularly like it.

I spent far too much time regurgitating the awful past in a wasted effort to rewrite my personal history. I’ve said this many times before, but I have yet to learn the lesson.

Now that I am not running around like a lunatic, I can see just how much time I’m wasting tilting at the windmills in my mind.

So I think my New Year’s resolution for 2018 is going to be very simple: stop wasting time.

I have lost a lot of time due to this accident and I will be spending most of the new year just trying to get back to where I was before the snow hit the fan.

I don’t have much say in this physical recovery, but at least I can train my mind to avoid all of these traps and pitfalls that I set up for myself.

I really can’t afford to waste any more energy on things that have already happened. I just don‘t have that luxury.

This accident has really taught me that your life can change in an instant, so whatever big plans you have, start acting on them immediately.

I am literally learning how to walk again; first with a walker and now a cane. This seems like the perfect time to rethink my thinking.

I am not making any grand pronouncements, or looking to make sweeping changes. I just want to adjust my thought patterns so that I am looking forward with hope instead of staring down to the gutter with despair.

I will be leaving rehab soon and going home. I will need to focus my energy on maintaining a safe environment, since I won’t be able to bend my knees for the next several weeks.

It will be challenging, it will be difficult, and I know in my heart it’s going to suck big time.

But I will do my best to stay focused on my recovery instead of my condition. I’m going to stop wasting time.

Happy new year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

If Only in My Dreams

I have this dream where I get out of bed, walk to the bathroom and start my day.

And then I realize that my legs are wrapped up in braces following the knee surgery and I can’t walk anywhere.

I will definitely not be home for Christmas this year, as I will be in the hospital rehab center for God knows how long.

After that I have to find a way of living in my apartment without moving my knees, and maybe six months from now, when it’s spring, I’m might be able to walk.

I’m trying to keep a positive attitude about all this, but I confess it’s very difficult.

My doctor says it’ll be 18 months before I’ll be able to go jogging, which means my boxing class, the one I love so much, is out of the question.

The thing about the boxing class is that it’s more than just a tough work out. There are so many great people in the class, and I probably won’t be seeing a lot of them again.

There’s also my fabulous writing class, which is meeting again in February but I can’t go if I can’t walk upstairs.

I know this sounds like whining and ingratitude, but I’m having a hard time handling all this grief at once.

I’m trying to find some lesson in all of this. something beyond “this really sucks.”

I’m grateful that the accident wasn’t more serious and I’m very grateful indeed for my wonderful family, especially my sister, who has been an absolute saint during this entire ordeal.

I guess I’m a little shocked at the length of the recovery time and how long it will take me to do the most basic simple things, the stuff I took for granted a week ago.

I’ve never spent Christmas in the hospital before, so this will be quite an experience.

All the holiday movies and specials mean nothing to me now since I can’t participate in any of the festivities.

But there are so many more people were so much worse off that I have no right to complain. It’s just that I’m so good at complaining!

I’m going to be a different person by the time this is over, and I want to be a better one. Kinder, more patient—the things I talk about but rarely deliver on.

I’m obsessed about going to the gym and being in shape, well I think this is a message to slow down and find other things in life.

I fret that I don’t have enough time write, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time now.

The first thing is to enjoy Christmas. My dear sister and auntie will be coming here tomorrow to visit me and we’ll try to muddle through somehow.

And to everyone else, have a great holiday and a wonderful New Year.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Bees Knees

I’ll keep this short.

I am writing to you from my hospital room in Sunset Park Brooklyn. Yes, my hospital room.

On Thursday as I was coming home from the gym I slipped on some snow and cracked up my left knee.

I was in total agony and I called a cab to take me home. While getting out of the cab and walking to my front door I managed to fall and screw up my right knee as well

I am in total agony and I still can’t believe this has happened.

I just got out of surgery a few hours ago and I have a long road of recovery ahead of me. I am frightened, I’m worried about the future and I’m worried about my health.

This wasn’t my plan to spend Christmas, but like the man says if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans.

I missed my writing class and our class reading today. I can’t tell you how unhappy this makes me.

I can forget about the gym for quite a while—it looks like probably six months or more but if I come out in good shape I’ll be thankful. But right now I’m miserable.

Blogging is going to be a little spotty as I go through rehab but I’ll keep you posted as best I can.

Happy freaking holidays.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Deep in Your Heart

“Is this going to upset me?” I asked my TV the other night.

Naturally my TV didn’t answer. It’s a smart TV, but it ain’t that smart. No matter.

I was gearing up for yet another crying fit as I watched a commercial—a goddamn commercial!—about an abandoned teddy bear looking to be loved.

“Oh, yes, it is!” I shouted to no one, and began sobbing.

I forgot what product was being peddled in this ad, but it doesn’t take much to get me reaching for the tissues.

I don’t know if it’s age or lunacy, but I find that I’m getting tear-eyed at the slightest emotional prodding. If someone ever starts a group “Shameless Weepers Anonymous,” I will gladly sign up.

While I’ve always been overly sensitive, lately I’ve been balling my eyes out at absolutely anything. And I wonder if there’s a part of me that looks for something to get emotional about just to get the weepy release.

Recently I came across a stray memory of a short film that ran on Saturday Night Live 30 years ago called “Love is a Dream,” that starred Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks.

The film was directed by Tom Schiller, who made some hilarious short films for SNL, including “La Dolce Gilda,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and “Java Junkie.”

However, Schiller took a break from comedy with “Love is a Dream” and created a beautiful, touching piece of work.

Hard to Explain, Just How You Feel

The film opens in black and white as an elderly woman enters a bank on a cold winter day, walks by an old security guard and removes a tiara from a safety deposit box.

The moment she puts it on her head, the film shifts to color, and a handsome, young soldier steps forward and dances with her as they lip synch a song set to Straus’ “Emperor Waltz” from a Bing Crosby film by the same name.

The dance ends, the soldier disappears, and Jan Hooks returns to being an old woman again.

She puts away her crown and as she leaves, the aging security guard turns and we see it’s Phil Hartman who gives her a little salute.

The film is touching enough on its own, but the emotional wallop gets cranked up one hundredfold when you factor in the shockingly untimely deaths of the two wonderful leads.

I recently tried to describe the film to my sister and auntie, but I started blubbering five seconds into the story.

My sister and auntie have suffered through my bawling scenes for years now and they saw this one coming.

“Don’t start crying,” my auntie said to no avail.

When the women in your family are getting fed up with your sob stories, you know there’s something wrong with you.

Now that the holidays are upon us, I’m sure I’ll be wailing my way through all of my favorite yuletide classics, like Scrooge, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Mousehole Cat.

Are they going to upset me? You damn right they are, and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Rand Old Time

As the lights dimmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday night, the man sitting next to me leaned in my direction.

“See you in four hours,” he whispered.

And with that we settle in for the BAM’s mammoth adaptation of Ayn Rand’s turgid potboiler
The Fountainhead.

Two days have gone by and I still don’t know how the hell I feel, but after suffering through this thing I feel like somebody owes me either an apology or an explanation, but I’ll settle for a t-shirt.

For the record, I despise Rand and her crackpot views on individualism with a passion.

She peddles a particularly virulent strain of horseshit that magically makes mythic figures out of self-centered, money-grubbing assholes, which explains why Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican scumbags jizz their shorts at the mere mention of her name.

In addition to being a five-star fraud, Rand, who is also responsible for that other literary slagheap, Atlas Shrugged, is a terrible writer who deposited reams of mind-numbing prose on a defenseless world.

I never thought I’d have anything to do with her, but then the BAM announced back in September that the incredibly talented director Ivo van Hove would be mounting a production of Rand’s story of renegade architect Howard Roark making his way through a world full of pesky humans.

My family and I had the pleasure of seeing van Hove’s brilliant staging of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and The Crucible and his adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network is currently lighting up the London stage.

The guy’s vision is so original, so outrageous that his name alone is enough to have me lining me up at the box office. The gentleman with whom I had been speaking at the start of the show was also a big fan.

Ivo, Ivo, It's Off to Work We Go

And van Hove didn’t disappoint. The production is stunning and van Hove employs all kinds of wild effects, including video screens that give us aerial views of the action. If I were making a recommendation solely on stagecraft, I’d be telling everyone I know to hightail it down to the BAM with all due haste.

But it’s still Ayn Rand and I’m still somewhat perplexed that such a talented director would waste his gifts breathing life into such shockingly substandard material. The characters are little more than clunky hand puppets who exist solely to spew Rand’s rancid ravings.

It’s like having Luciano Pavarotti sing “99 Bottles of Beer of the Wall.” Yeah, I’m sure he could do it, but why in God’s name would he want to?

In an interview, van Hove said he liked the book “because it asks the question of the essence of creation,” but other writers have asked the same question with much better results.

I’ve been having trouble lately with my knees as they start hurting if I sit for too long, and “too long” is the optimum phrase for this event.

When intermission finally arrived, I got up for some much-needed relief and when I returned I found that my companion and his lady friend had vacated the premises, leaving me alone with Ayn Rand. I guess even Ivo couldn’t keep them in their seats.

Things went to hell quickly in the second half of the show. I alternated between nodding off and wishing someone in the theater would pull the fire alarm.

The monstrosity finally ends four hours and change later with the hero standing on the stage and giving a lengthy harangue about the pursuit of happiness. The only happiness I wanted to pursue was getting the hell out of here.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I’m still a van Hove fan and while I’m glad I experienced this, I wouldn’t want to do it again. I said the same thing after getting a colonoscopy, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

Now where’s my t-shirt?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tooth and Fail

All I wanted was a tube of toothpaste.

A simple shopping trip went full-on fiasco this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as a I dragged my bloated self through the day in a tryptophan stupor.

I did actually accomplish a few things one day after a fabulous turkey dinner with my sister and auntie.

I got my printer back online after getting my computer’s operating system replaced, a relatively easy task that I had inflated to crisis-level proportions through the power of my nervous disposition.

And I made some (very) minor progress in cleaning up my computer room, though that job is a long way from done.

I finally got out of the house in the late afternoon to do some shopping and treat myself to a much-needed massage, but first I stopped off at a neighborhood thrift store for the aforementioned toothpaste. And that's when the owners’ kids decided to rub me the wrong way.

The lady who owns the place has two lovely daughters and a really cute little boy. The two girls were acting a bit rowdy upon my arrival and I suspect I amped them up a bit as I laughed while the oldest daughter danced and sang what sounded like a Chinese nursery rhyme

The little brother very slowly and deliberately chomped on a candy bar and would continue to do so throughout my visit.

I rummaged around the place until I found the toothpaste and walked up to the cash register whereupon the oldest girl squinted at me and dropped the bomb.

“Are you a boy?”

“What?” I shrieked.

“Are you a boy?” she repeated.

“Yes, of course, I am,” I sputtered. “Why would you ask me something like that?”

Return to Gender

I stood there clutching my tube of Crest and wishing I had stayed the hell in bed. My ego is fragile enough without getting the piƱata treatment from an 8-year-old.

“Why you wear that?” she said, indicating my earring.

Now I’ve had this stud in my left ear for nearly 20 years now and I barely think about anymore. Apparently, however, other people do.

“Boys can wear earrings,” I protested. “Maybe I’m a pirate!”

I should’ve clammed up right then and there, but, no, Joe Schmuck had to lift his ski cap and displayed his hairless pate.

“Here,” I said, as florescent beams bounced off my coconut. “Girls don’t do this!”

I know there are women who shave their heads, but I wanted to keep things simple for my audience. However, all I did was get the middle daughter riled up.

“How come you got no hair?” she asked.

“I shaved it all off!” I shouted.

“They ask a lot of questions,” their mother said with a trace of weariness.

They certainly do. I was waiting for the baby brother to give me the business, too, but he was far too busy munching on that candy bar and I suspect he would keep doing so even if Satan himself crashed up through the floor and started singing “Swanee River.”

I grabbed my package, got my change and got the hell out of there before those kids found something else about me to mock.

Now being a good Catholic boy I must confessed that I was only moderately flustered by their antics.

The truth is I loved every second of this adorable abuse and since this is the time of year for giving thanks, let me add this little episode to the list of things I’m thankful for this year.

But I think next time I’ll get my toothpaste somewhere else.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Long Time Passing

We were doing fine until we found that shoebox.

For the last few Saturdays, I’ve been going over to my auntie’s house in Manhattan to help her clean her apartment.

Last week we made some progress reducing the clutter in her walk-in closet and yesterday we renewed our attack, directing our efforts to the various boxes that sat on the shelves.

We discovered two boxes of shoes that she apparently hadn’t worn in a while and then I reached up for a third box expecting to find yet another pair of kicks.

But this time we struck gold.

This box was filled with dozens of old family photographs, a ton of jumbled memories, many without names or dates, all thrown together in a haphazard history.

The moment we pulled back the lid, my auntie and I both knew it was quitting time. I switched off the closet light, we pulled up some chairs, and went back in time.

Clicking through digital images doesn’t begin to compare with looking at these old pictures, where you can almost feel the years passing by.

There were photos of my nieces when they children (they’re both adults now), a number of people I didn’t know, and two old black and white images. The first shows a couple and their three children, while the other is picture of their four-year-old daughter sitting outside their house.

The man and woman were my grandparents. I never knew my grandfather, though I’m told he cried easily at sad movies, a weakness that passed from him, to my mother, and down to me. My grandmother was elderly when I was growing up and she died when I was in the fifth grade.

A Long Time Ago

Their oldest daughter in the photo was my Aunt Mary, who had come to America from Italy with my grandmother and died when she was 18 years old. Growing up I heard a lot about Mary, but it took a long time for me to fully understand her loss, and feel the pain of a life that ended far too soon.

The young boy is my Uncle Walter, who would grow up to be a bomber pilot in World War II.

And then there’s that little girl who appears in both photos.

“That’s your mother,” my aunt said.

I stared at the photograph in disbelief. That beautiful like child clutching a stuffed animal, seated near a little wagon, and looking at the camera with this slightly confused look on her face—that’s my mother?

Of course, she’s not my mother in that picture, not even close. She would have a long way to go before me and my siblings make our appearance.

I wanted so badly to speak to my mother, squeeze her hand, and tell her much love her and how badly I miss her. I took everything I had to keep from crying.

I remember once when we were kids and my mother got fed up with our fighting.

“Life is over in second,” she declared. “You may think it’s long, but it’s really just a second.”

And looking through those old photographs I see how right she was. One moment she’s a little girl and the next moment she’s a grandmother. And now she’s a memory.

I looked through the photos of my niece Kristin on her first Holy Communion and my youngest niece Victoria on vacation and appearing on stage in Kabuki make-up for a school production. I wish my mother could be here to see how they’ve grown.

I took some photos of the pictures, put everything back in the shoebox and then it was time to leave.

So, yeah, we didn’t get much accomplished in the way of cleaning yesterday, but my heart sure got a hell of a workout.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

One Lump or Two?

You see them in all corners of this great city of ours, just itching to spring into your life.

New York has a seemingly vast population of unique individuals that some crass folks might refer to as nuts, kooks, weirdos, or freaks.

But, hey, come on, without these characters this town would be nothing more than a plus-size Topeka.

These people are very helpful in the event you forget what city you’re in.

One look at their bizarre antics and you’ll shake your head and say, “Oh, yeah, that's right; I’m in New York.”

Take, for example, the gentleman I spied last week walking down Fourth Avenue here in beautiful Bay Ridge shortly before the start of the New York Marathon.

He was in his forties, wearing shorts and a straw hat and carrying a massive plastic fish slung over his neck like a Gibson guitar.

I’m not sure where he acquired this particular item, but I suspect one of the local seafood restaurants might be missing a sign.

And just to make sure we were all looking at him, this fellow was howling out an ear-splitting rendition of the old Sly and the Family Stone hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” at the top of his lungs. I honestly don’t think anyone on this earth could stop this guy from being himself.

I would’ve taken his picture but I was concerned he might pummel me with his giant tuna.

Next we have the cheerfully psychotic fellow I unwillingly befriended on the crosstown bus the other night after a theater outing with my sister and auntie.

For some reason, the crosstown bus requires a ticket rather than a Metrocard. The bus driver doesn’t usually ask to see the ticket but you can get an $150 summons if you’re caught without one.

I don't know the logic behind this, but it's not a hardship by any means--at least not for most people.

So the three of us got our tickets, crowd into the bus, and I happen to be standing over this rather stocky chap with a shaved head and a bushy mustache. I thought he was chatting to the woman sitting next to him, but I soon realized he was addressing the world at large.

And then he made eye contact with me.

Lookin’ at the Devil, Grinnin’ at His Gun

Yes, sadly, when it comes to head cases, I’m a walking piece of flypaper. The loons spot me and streak in my direction like salmon surging upstream.

“You got that ticket, huh?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I said, praying the conversation would end there, but knowing it wouldn’t.

“They give you a $150 fine if you don’t got that ticket,” he said. “Man, someone tried to give me a summons I’d lump him up.”


“Yeah,” he declared, “I don’t care if I go to jail. I’d lump him up.”

He seemed quite fond of that expression “lump him up” and said it repeatedly. I was hoping he wouldn’t turn his words into action.

“We don’t got them tickets in Queens,” he said. “You try that in Queens, we’d lump you up.”

It was getting awfully lumpy on this bus, like poorly stirred oatmeal. I kept looking out the window, hoping that our stop would come up soon.

“Let someone try and give me a summons,” my travel companion was saying. “I’d lump him up.”

Yes, sir, I fervently believe that you would lump this person up. Now can we change the subject?

“I’d go to jail,” he said, “I don’t care.”

A seat became available across the aisle, and I sent my keester in downward mode. As I made contact with the nice plastic chair, a woman sitting next to me promptly got up and walked away.

“Don’t worry, lady,” my friend called out to her, “he don’t bite.”

Somehow I don’t think this lady was concerned about me, but was rather attempting to avoid any contact with my buddy. I was going to point this out to him, but I didn't want him to lump me up.

We arrived at our destination, I bid Willy Lump-Lump good night, and bounded off the bus with all due haste. My sister and I had a good laugh about my encounter and I couldn’t wait to tell people about it.

I just hope my plastic fish won’t be jealous.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Run for Your Life

And I was actually starting to feel hopeful...

The New York City Marathon went off without a hitch today, just days after eight innocent people were slaughtered in Manhattan in the name of a psychotic delusion.

Once again, my home was the target of a fundamentalist murderer, 16 years after the September 11 attacks.

This latest scumbag told the police that he had planned his attack for Halloween because there were would be more people on the street.

His victims included five friends from Argentina celebrating their high school reunion and a young mother from Belgium. Yeah, I’ll better Allah is just tickled pink by all these dead infidels, you asshole.

I didn’t think things could get any worse, but then that Putin-loving fuckwad in the White House proved me wrong by tweeting a vile load of politically-motivated bullshit before the victims’ bodies were even cold.

What the hell is wrong with this scumbag Trump? And what the hell is wrong with his idiot supporters who still stand behind him after all the lies, screw-ups, bigotry and flat out corruption?

He didn’t make any political comments after the Las Vegas massacre; Republicans were too busy shrieking “too soon!” at the slightest mention of gun control.

I lived through the Bush years, when that imbecile stood upon the charred remains of the 9/11 victims and ordered that disaster in Iraq, which helped create Isis.

What's the Good News?

The scandal-wracked Trump Administration is in desperate need of something to get the Russia investigation off the front pages and starting a war is an all-time favorite among imperialists and two-bit dictators.

Impeach, impeach, impeach…

So that's why I was really looking forward to watching the marathon pass through my neighborhood. I do this every year, but today I was really in need of some good news.

And for a while it worked. The weather was crappy, but nobody seemed to mind. There were runners from all over the world, runners in wheelchairs and on crutches. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, they were all racing through the streets of my city and charging the atmosphere with beautiful vibrations.

I was having a blast, high-fiving runners, taking photos, and shooting the breeze with fellow spectators. Watching all those athletes rolling down Fourth Avenue, I starting to feel some stirrings of optimism.

Yes, these fundamentalist mother fuckers are a curse upon the world. And, yes, I am afraid for myself and my loved ones because I don’t know how we stop these suicidal sons-of-bitches from striking again, and again, and again.

If someone decides to take his own life, all the pathetic macho man posturing in the world won’t do shit to stop him.

But look at all those runners out there, I thought. Look at all those good, decent people, who just want to enjoy their lives. They’re stronger than any terrorist on earth. And I know that Trump will fall and fall hard.

And then I read about Texas where a gunman invaded a small-town church, killing at least 26 people. The dead include the pastor's 14-year-old daughter.

Her father said she was "one very beautiful, special child."

We don’t have all the details yet, but what fucking difference does that make? Nothing will change, the killings will continue, and there will be no place to run.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bridge Game

Uncle Joe was mighty proud of me.

I like to talk to my uncle in Los Angeles regularly to see what’s going on with the West Coast branch of the family.

I’ve stayed with Joe and his wife more times than I could possibly count and it’s always nice to shoot the breeze with him.

Joe called me this morning and I filled him on a recent trip I talk to Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island that turned out much better than I had anticipated.

“So,” he said after I finished, “you got up off your arse and did something different?”

Indeed, I had.

I had been trying to decide if I wanted to go on this trip with one of my Meetup groups and, as usual, I was coming up with all kinds of excuses not to join in.

My apartment was a mess, I haven’t been doing enough writing, I was tired. And I don’t know my way around Staten Island—what if I got lost?

But I also knew that if I stayed in my comfort zone and spent the day by myself, I’d be miserable. Finally, late on Saturday morning, I made up my mind to go, jumping aboard a S51 bus and hoping I wouldn’t end up an X-File.

I arrived in 20 minutes.

The bus went over the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge and two stops later I was walking a half-block up to Fort Wadsworth.

It was embarrassingly easy to get there, but I had turned it to such a bear in my mind. And even if I had gotten lost, so what? Getting lost in Staten Island is one thing; getting lost in Antarctica is another.

Fort Wadsworth, an area on the Narrows first fortified by the British in 1779, is in a beautiful location. It’s almost directly across the water from where I live, but seeing the same site from the opposite angle was a trip.

“Fort Wadsworth?” Joe said when I told him. “I went there sometime around 1938. I forget what it was all about, but I know I was there. Funny you should bring it up.”

Photo Finish

The rest of the group was coming from Manhattan via the Staten Island ferry, so I chilled outside in the warm autumn sun outside the Visitor’s Center until they showed up.

A park ranger took us on a tour of this eerily empty place. I tried to imagine what the place was like back in the 19th Century, when Staten Island a rural place.

After the tour, we walked up to the Alice Austen House.

Born in 1866, Alice Austen was America's earliest and most prolific female photographers, who lived in her family’s home Clear Comfort, which is right on the Narrows. She was also gay and her home is a national site of LGBTQ history.

Her earliest existing in photograph dates back to 1884 and over the next 40 years she produced around 8,000 photographs, focusing on the daily of New Yorkers.

This was long before I-phones and Ms. Austen had to lug around nearly 50 pounds of photographic equipment in order to photo subjects.

She lived off the interest from money left by her grandfather but the principal was lost in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and by age 63, she had no income.

She sold off silver, art works, and furniture, took a mortgage on her home, but the bank foreclosed in 1945 and this incredibly talented woman ended up in the poorhouse, where, as one person said, “there was a single, bare lightbulb hanging over each bed.”

I found myself getting quite upset as I learned how Alice Austen had suffered in her final years. But there is some good news.

Eventually her work was the subject of a Life Magazine article in 1950 and she was able to move into a private nursing home, where she died on June 9, 1952.

I’m glad I got to learn about Alice Austen and I know I’ll be going back there and Fort Wadsworth to enjoy other events.

You sure can learn a lot by getting off your arse.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Harte of the Matter

I saw many fabulous sites during my London trip this summer, and one of them was just around the corner from me.

I was staying a (very) small hotel near Bayswater Road and, though I was only there for 10 days, I miss my old neighborhood.

I’d take my morning walks in Hyde Park, catch the tube at the Lancaster Gate Underground Station, and whenever I got the munchies, I’d bounce around the corner, walk by the Greek restaurant that was always packed, and get fruit, cheese, or similar stuff at one of two grocery stores.

On the way back to my hotel one night, I saw a plaque on an empty building on the corner that had been put up by the Greater London Council which honored the American author Francis Bret Harte, who lived in London for several years before his death in 1902.

I know that name, I thought. I know I do. Now, who the hell is he…?

The title “Outcasts of Poker Flat” emerged from my old high school English class memories, followed by absolutely nothing else. I had to learn more.

Harte, who was born in Albany in 1836, was a writer and poet, best known for writing stories about the California gold rush. He moved out west in 1853 and held various jobs, including miner, teacher, messenger, and journalist.

While an assistant editor at the Northern Californian, Harte wrote a scathing editorial condemning the massacre of 80 to 200 Wiyots at the village of Tuluwat and was forced to leave town after receiving death threats.

Roaring Days

I recently read (re-read?) “Outcasts of Poker Flat,” which was published in 1869, and another one of Harte’s best known stories, “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” published in 1868, when I returned from England and I was struck at how the brutality of nature features in both stories.

Gambling, luck, and extreme suffering are also themes in these stories. And both—semi-spoiler alert-- end tragically.

I watched a film version of Outcasts of Poker Flat with Preston Foster, which took elements from “The Luck of Roaring Camp” as well, but quite frankly, it didn’t work. Billed as “a flaming drama of the roaring days of the gold rush,” I found the film to be the dull and plodding.

Short stories often suffer when they’re expanded into full-length films, as they become weighed down by additional characters and contrived story lines.

There’s a 1952 film version starring Dale Robertson, a spaghetti western, called The Four of the Apocalypse based on the two stories and, even an opera. There's also a Russian film called Armed and Dangerous that's based on Harte stories.

Harte accepted the position of United States Consul Germany in May 1878, took a similar position in Glasgow, and settled in London in 1885. He died in Camberley, England in 1902 from throat cancer.

I get the feeling this neighborhood hasn’t changed much since Bret Harte’s time. The rows of buildings look like they’ve been there a long time and I hope it stays that way. And I hope Harte’s home is preserved.

I’m grateful to the Greater London Council for putting up the plaque and sending me off on this fact-finding mission. There’s more of Harte’s work I want to read and more famous authors I have to discover.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Good Citizen

Christopher sounds like quite a guy: he wants to save the country, build houses for the homeless and be a good citizen.

I became slightly acquainted with Christopher this week while walking along Third Avenue one morning last week. I was coming home from the gym when I saw a composition notebook on the ground.

I have this fascination for lost writings and photos, so naturally I stopped to take a look.

I saw instantly that the notebook belonged to a child—I couldn’t make out the last name, but “Christopher” was written clearly across the cover.

I was a little surprised to see an old-school marble notebook, since I figured kids today are using I-pads, smart phones, and robots to do their homework instead of pencil and paper.

I’m not good at determining children’s ages, but Chris is probably a first or second grader. He proudly declared his desires about adulthood on the first page:

When I grow up I want to be in the army,” he writes, “so I can go and save the country from the bad guys and destroy there (sic) country so they won’t have a home so that is why I want to go to the army so I could save this world.”

I think it’s great that this young man wants to save the world, but I’m not sure joining the army is the best way to do it. And it’s rather depressing that terrorism is on this young man’s mind, but then I guess that’s not surprising given how terror attacks have dominated the news.

My Back Pages

Christopher drew two figures on the bottom of the page, one labeled “Gab” and the other “Me.”

I thumbed through the notebook and found another entry where Christopher said he wants to build houses for the homeless so they’ll have someplace to live. He writes that he wants to be “a good citidisent” which I believe is meant to be “citizen,” but he was close.

I felt badly because I sure that this notebook means a lot to this young boy. I lost a notebook on the subway a few years back and I was devastated. I had used it to write down ideas for stories and other things and while I’m sure it mostly gibberish, I’m equally certain I lost some gems as well.

I keep journals at my shrink’s urging and they’re very helpful.

Journaling is a good form of self-discovery and I find a lot of the things that are troubling me often lose their power once I pick up the pen and commit my fears to paper.

I stood there on the street holding a child's dreams in my hands and wondering what to do.

If Christopher had written his home address or his school in the notebook, I would’ve gladly tracked him down, returned his journal, and encouraged to keep up with the writing.

In the end, I left the notebook right where I found it. Maybe Christopher will retrace his steps and retrieve it, though that seems unlikely.

But I do hope Christopher grows up to live his dreams, that he beats the bad guys and builds homes for the homeless. He sounds like he’ll be a good citidisent and we need more like him.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

58 Crosses

Well, at least we can send thoughts and prayers.

I just finished reading the Times’ story on Stephen Paddock, the latest American psycho to unleash his twisted fury on innocent people—this time at a country music festival in Las Vegas, where he fired down into the crowd from his hotel window, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds—yes, hundreds, of others.

The carnage has been called the deadliest mass shooting in American history—until the next one, of course. And we all know that there will be a next one.

Paddock is a man contrasts, according to the Times, who doesn’t fit the mass shooter profile, but we do know he was a fucking lunatic with ridiculously easy access to a shit-ton of firearms.

The video footage of the shooting is sickening, with the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire ripping through the air while the singer on stage stops to figure out what’s going on and then turns to run. It makes me ashamed to be an American.

The stories emerging from the shooting are horrible, with people dying as they used their own bodies to shield their loved ones from the merciless assault.

Paddock wasn’t a Muslim, though ISIS is claiming he was, and factions of the right wing media are working overtime to make some kind of Islamic connection to distract us from the blistering reality that this son-of-a-bitch was a Caucasian American male that neither a border wall nor a travel ban would’ve stopped.

So now we have the vigils, and the speeches, the thoughts and fucking prayers that didn’t do jack shit to prevent last year’s slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando or any of the other mass shootings before or since.

Death from Above

A group of volunteers is planting 58 trees to honor the victims, while another man is planting 58 crosses. I think these are touching, commendable tributes, but I can’t stop thinking about the 58 corpses.

The gun lobby and its paid hand puppets immediately launched into loathsome, bogus wails of “too soon” at the very mention of control, as if they actually gave a shit about the victims or their loved ones.

It’s strange how it’s never too soon to discuss changing the law after a deadly fire, plane crash or other such tragedy. Only when guns are involved do politicians hit the brakes on change and get all protective and worried about people who are beyond saving.

Ladies and gentlemen, please go fuck yourselves. You have no intention of changing the law, even with talk of banning the bump stock, which helped Paddock rack up such a sizeable body count.

The Second Amendment chimps are hooting that there are other ways of killing people, like fertilizer bombs, runaway trucks, and hijacked jetliners.

No doubt, but by introducing some kind of sanity to our gun laws, we could at least shut down one potential avenue of mayhem.

We could, but, of course, we won’t.

I don’t know why I even bother writing about these shootings anymore. People are more upset about football players kneeling during the National Anthem than they are about mass murders.

So, by all means, send your thoughts and prayers to Las Vegas, but save a few prayers for yourself and ask God to spare you from the next massacre that’s surely heading our way.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Light and Day

I’m not sure, but that might’ve been a panic attack.

I’ve been bouncing in all directions for the last few weeks, so I guess this probably wasn’t the best time to watch The Light Between Oceans, an incredibly moving story that I thoroughly enjoyed, though I’m sure some people would dismiss it as just a tear-jerker. Fuck them.

The film tells the story of a couple living in a lighthouse in post-World War I Australia, who make an understandable but nonetheless disastrous decision when a boat containing a dead man and a live baby comes ashore on their island.

It’s painfully ironic that people who are entrusted with providing this guiding light could stumble down such a dark path, but so many of us have trouble finding our way even at high noon.

The thing had me weeping and wailing as the inevitable confrontation takes place, but I also found an excuse to conjure up all these terrible thoughts about what a lousy son I was, how I caused my parents all kinds of worry and misery with my constant screw-ups.

What all this grief has to do with a lighthouse in Australia I have no fucking idea, but when I’m upset, it doesn’t take much for me to go full-on Chernobyl.

I’m finally switching to a new bank after months of rage and madness at my old institution, which is gleefully screwing me over the hacking of my accounts.

Light the Way

I was hoping for a quick resolution to our dispute, but it’s looking more like the siege of Leningrad.

One of the managers at the new place sat me down Saturday for their version of 20 questions. He smiled when I told him my mother’s maiden name.

“She’s Italian?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, wincing at his use of the present tense.

My mother’s been gone for 15 years and I still miss her terribly, especially when there’s bad news on the doorstep. I was going to correct this fellow, but I thought better of it. Why embarrass the man and make myself miserable as well?

I went out Saturday night to unwind at a happy hour event, but my attitude was severely off.

I had been making improvements with the anger management, I really had, but the banking woes have made me super-irritable, so Saturday’s atrocious train service made my foul mood that much worse.

And while I met great people that night and had some nice conversations, I just don’t think a 60-year-old man should be hanging around in bars.

I got pretty depressed, thinking that I was too old to have fun and destined to haunt the bingo halls and I think many things contributed to my intense (over?) reaction to the movie.

So I think that banker had the right idea. I should think of my mother in the present tense, make her a part of my daily life instead of the fading past, and let her be my lighthouse guiding me through the unforgiving ocean.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ferry Man

Life got so awful last week I just had to ship out.

I didn’t go far, but my brief voyages downriver did help wash away some of the rage, worry, and fear that have been eating away at me.

The city recently introduced a ferry service from my neighborhood in Bay Ridge that stops at Red Hook, Dumbo, (that's "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" for all you out-of-towners) and ends up at Pier 11 in Manhattan.

Red Hook and Dumbo are difficult to reach by subway or bus from Bay Ridge so the ferry makes my life a lot easier.

The ferry leaves from the 69th Street pier, which is a few minutes from my house, and where the Staten Island ferry used to sail from back before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964.

I have an extremely faint memory of sitting in my parents’ car as we lined up to get on that boat. The city shut down this service shortly after the bridge opened and that was it for the ferry in my corner of the world—until now.

This ride costs the same as a subway, though it is infinitely more pleasant. When people say “half the fun is getting there,” this is what they mean.

And I’ve been taking that boat to Dumbo a lot lately. I’ve had a horrible time with my finances and I just learned last week that all of my hacked money may not be returned to me as I had been told.

I can’t say much right now because there could be some legal action springing out of this, but let’s just say I feel like I’ve been victimized all over again.

Shoving Right Off Again

I’ve been on the phone all this week screaming and cursing at all sorts of paper pushers from here to Bangladesh and I accomplished absolutely nothing except jacking up my blood pressure and endangering my health.

I know I was making progress in controlling my anger, so these last few days have been very upsetting.

Now on Friday night I had planned to hide in my house, guzzle wonton soup, watch a DVD, and wallow in self-pity. But the weather was so beautiful—the first day of autumn looked more like the first day of summer—that I decided, “oh, screw this, I’m going to sea!”

I sailed down the river to attend a music festival in Dumbo. People around me were taking selfies as if they were on cruise ship and, I think in a way, they were.

The city looks so beautiful from the water and there are no delays, screeching brakes, babbling lunatics or other such grief that you routinely run into on the train.

And this neighborhood is so vibrant and lively, especially on a warm night. There are shops, restaurants and beautiful parks. It’s such a contrast from the Seventies, when the area was empty, abandoned, and rotting. The streets were dark and creepy enough back then to make a dozen horror movies.

Now there's live music, great events, and people, people, people all over the place. It was just the thing I needed to shake free of my grief and I had such a good time that I went back again on Saturday.

My problems haven’t disappeared, of course. I know they’ll be waiting for me when I get up tomorrow morning.

But it was nice to sail away for just a little while.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Time to Every Purpose

When in doubt, there’s always the little yellow book.

I’ve been going through a rather strange period lately.

My identity has been hacked, my bank account has been robbed, I’m making all sorts of bonehead mistakes in all facets of my life, and I’m starting to seriously wonder just what in the hell is my mission on this earth.

About the only bright spot in all this grief is that my missing funds have been restored, and I’m incredibly thankful for this.

I still don’t know how the theft happened and so right now my personal computer is in the shop getting a malware check to make sure it didn’t occur on my end. I blame my bank, but then I am pretty angry about the whole situation.

I’m a great believer in signs and portents—fuck logic and facts—am I right, people?--and I’d like to think that this all started a few weeks ago when my cable unit went all schizoid and the repair guy decided that the only way to address the problem was to replace the entire unit without telling me.

I was about five feet away working on the company laptop in my kitchen at that time, so I don’t think consulting with me before taking such a drastic step would’ve been exceptionally challenging.

When I asked him if I still had access to all the movies and programs I had recorded on my DVR he shook his head in the negative. Among other things, I was saving my 2010 appearance CNN when I read my father’s poem about World War II.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sensing my consternation.

I thought I’d be angry, but I was reasonably okay with it. I’d had several of those films for years and I never even thought about looking at them.

Turn, Turn, Turn...

And I’m pretty sure I can track down that CNN interview if I have a great desire to watch it again. If I can’t, well, that would suck significantly, but it would certainly be survivable. Still, I do wish I hadn’t tipped that guy…

I had an extremely rough week on the professional side, and combined with the hacking business I’ve been a bit of an emotional dumpster fire.

Friday, the day I normally live for, was particularly bad and I was quite literally praying on my Rosary beads in search of relief.

I did get some—thank you, Lord!—but I feel like I’m on the verge of a major change and I don’t know if it will be good or bad, but I know things can’t stay the same much longer.

Which brings me to the little yellow book. A while back Fred the Shrink gave me a copy of A Guide for the Advanced Soul, a collection of powerful quotations. The idea is that you focus on whatever is troubling you, open to a random page in the book, and you’ll find an answer.

On one level this sounds perfectly ridiculous and about as reliable as Ouija boards, tarot cards, and the Magic 8 Ball.

But I’ve already expressed my disdain for rationality and so on Friday, when I was ready to run screaming down the street in my underwear, I took hold of my little yellow book, pondered the future, and opened it up.

To everything there is a season,” it read, citing the open line of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Okay, then. Besides being a hit recording for the Byrds, what does this have to do with me?

The passage seems to be about seeking balance, something that is sorely missing in my world right now.

Perhaps a season of my life is coming to an end and a new one is about to begin. Summer is changing to fall as I write this and it’s is a good time to let the old, useless parts of my life drop away like autumn leaves.

I’ll do whatever I have to do to be happy, I’ll always carry my little yellow book, and if I do any screaming I'll make sure to keep my pants on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Where or When

This is the day that never should’ve happened.

Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, when I stood with a crowd across the street from the World Trade Center and watched life as we knew it go straight to hell.

That day was also my father’s 80th birthday and the day after my parents’ anniversary.

My mother was in Lutheran Medical Center’s intensive care unit at the time, but they moved her in anticipation of a wave of injured victims that never came. On 9/11, it was just the living or the dead.

I recall the horror of that day, the chaos that followed; I remember the flyers, the desperate appeals that papered the city, looking for missing people who would never be seen alive again.

And I remember the smell, how I remember that awful stench that hung over the city like a funeral shroud.

I was listening to the radio on Sunday and Jonathan Schwartz played this fabulous recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Where or When.”

He made that record nearly 70 years ago—on September 11, 1950, the day after my parents got married in Our Lady of Angels Church in Brooklyn.

How different the world was back then. This country had recently emerged from World War II and people knew nothing of jihadists or radical Islam back then. They were hopeful about the future.

I didn’t get to the memorial service at Ground Zero this year, so I listened to the reading of the victims' names on TV. I didn’t stand outside the Brooks Brothers store where I was on the day the planes hit.

Until the Shadows Lengthen

I work from home now and I don’t go to Manhattan unless it’s absolutely necessary. (That sounds awfully lame as I read it.)

I was looking through my strong box for my Social Security card the other day and I came across all these old papers and photos and mass cards that had my crying in no time at all.

And I found a mass card for a young man named Neil who was killed in the Trade Center attacks. I don’t recognize him and I don’t know how this card came into my possession, but I’ll gladly keep it with my other artifacts. We were all family on 9/11.

Neil, who was 28 years old, is smiling broadly in the photo and news reports said he loved to cook and had planned to join his family in Italy in mid-September.

I wonder about Neil and all the other victims, what their lives would’ve been like had they been allowed to remain in this world.

I think of the children that were never born, the relationships that never happened, the great vacations, the wonderful memories, the incredible ideas, the good times, all brutally cut short.

The front of Neil's mass card bears the image of St. Francis, restorer of lost things and the Prayer for Holy Rest appears on the back.

Oh, Lord,” it says, “support us all day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done, then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Amen to that.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Urgent Appeal

I saw this loser heading my way as I prepared to take a picture of the Tower Bridge in London.

He was hairless, like yours truly, but nowhere near as gorgeous, of course.

His eyes were bugging out of his head as he walked in front of a guy aiming his camera at the bridge and flipped the two-fingered salute—a variation of the American middle finger.

I was on vacation and didn’t want to deal with freaks, but I realized that all big cities have their lunatics.

I didn’t make eye contact as he walked by me—I am a New Yorker, after all--but I watched him until he was gone.

To be quite honest, the incident paled in comparison with the belligerent costumed characters and aggressive desnudas who stalk Times Square on any given day.

But a few days later I saw a poster outside my hotel with the douchebag’s face under the words “Urgent Appeal.”

City of London Police have released a CCTV still of a man they are looking to speak to in connection with a number of harassment incidents in the vicinity of the Tower Bridge,” the flyer said.

I don’t know if the cops ever found this bum, but I feel like I’m battling with his twin brother somewhere out in cyberspace. I went to my bank last week and learned that the hack of my account was much worse than I thought—much, much worse.

I don’t want to give out any numbers, but it seems this prick has been syphoning money from my savings account since July. Yes, I should’ve been more aware of my finances, but clearly my bank was asleep at the switch too.

Tower Treasure

I sat in one of the cubicles while one of the bank executives showed me a list of fraudulent transactions. This is where my mother used to sell life insurance, where I used to visit her or call her when I lived out of town.

This place used to be a sacred place to me, but now it felt more like a hellhole.

The police are involved and today I spoke with a detective who says it’s a case of grand larceny and he intends to subpoena my bank—soon to be ex-bank.

I’m getting welcome messages from various financial institutions that think I’ve opened an account with them and I’m contacting them to say I most definitely have not. 

I have to give a super-secret password every time I call my bank, while the goddamn hackers can walk around my savings account like it’s a public men’s room.

I’ve spent over $100 on security software for my computer because the bank claims I’ve got some kind of malware in my computer—even though I believe this is horseshit. So, far I’ve found nothing.

And I’ve been losing my temper with the bank, the software company, and myself for getting neck-deep in this misery. All my attempts at anger management have gone straight down the crapper as I've yelled, screamed, and screamed some more.

After the meeting, I staggered toward the bank’s exit door. I stopped at the place where my mother’s desk used to be and I prayed to her, asking for strength and courage to get through this disaster.

I felt like crying and running away, but that’s no solution. And I know my mother wouldn’t want me to do that. She’d want me to stand tall, face my problems, and give them all the two-fingered salute.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Trial and Travel

Well, that was pretty stupid, wasn’t it?

I pulled a first-class hayseed stunt last week when I returned from my vacation in London—a move so dumb I still can’t believe it.

So this is what happened: I get off the plane at JFK after a 7-hour flight and switch on my phone to call a car service to come pick me up.

This was the same company that had taken me to the airport 9 days early so I knew I could trust them.

But the dispatcher had put this bug in my brain when I called them earlier in the week and asked for a car.

“Call us when you land,” he told me. “If the driver has to wait too long we’ll double the fare.”

Double the fare? I had run into this problem once before at JFK when a driver threatened to double my fare because I had supposedly kept him waiting too long and it took a lot of screaming on my part to turn things around.

I guess that ugly little scene was on my mind when I walked out of the terminal and was approached by this young African man. He offered to give me a ride for 50 bucks and, wanting to avoid any drama, I readily—and quite stupidly--agreed.

Yes, yes, I know, how could a native New Yorker possibly be this dumb? This was such a blatant hick reaction that I should’ve been wearing overalls and a straw hat. And I ended up getting more drama than a year’s worth of soap opera episodes.

“I’ve got to pick up some more people,” my driver said and ducked back into the terminal.

More people? This is a cab, not a Greyhound. What people are we talking about here? Convinced I’d be murdered and dumped in an empty hanger, I took a photo of the guy’s medallion and emailed it to myself so my next-of-kin could ID my killer.

It turns out this yo-yo was trolling for bodies and he had me waiting in his cab for nearly an hour before he pulled in a family of four who were quite surprised to see me in the front seat.

Abandon Ship!

“Who’s that?” the father said, speaking as if I were a wax dummy.

We take off and the traffic is horrible, the driver is blasting some hideous music that’s still ringing in my head, and finally the father gets fed up and demands the driver stop dead in his tracks and leave them all on the side of the road.

“Come on,” the driver pleaded, “I’m African, you’re African…”

The logic behind this statement escaped me as well as the guy in the back seat.

“I don’t care if you’re African,” the irate passenger said, “I don’t like how you do business.”

I didn’t like it either--and I’m not even African.

We finally got to Brooklyn, I bailed and thanked God I wasn’t floating in a river.

It wasn’t until the next day that I learned my brand, new Sapphire credit card, which I had specifically gotten for my trip to England, had been hacked by some scumbag who had used the thing to buy tickets to a British amusement park on the same day I was taking in a play in London.

And I found out my bank account had been hacked again, so nearly every night this week I was on the phone with my bank shrieking at some idiot “service” worker in the Philippines about the atrocious service I was getting.

Being Catholic I reasoned that God was punishing me for my stupidity at the airport by sending hackers to swipe my credit card. This is a staggering lapse in logic, of course, as ridiculous as trusting a cab driver merely because you both come from the same continent.

I’ve learned my lesson about getting into strange cabs and now I’m taking on the hackers. I hope my bank can do something to help me and if they can’t, they can just pull over and leave me on the side of the road.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

‘See You in London’

My finger quivered on the mouse as I moved the curser over the “Cancel Vacation” tab.

One click and I wouldn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I wouldn’t have to dig out my passport, fly on an airplane, or rent a hotel room and exchange currency.

One click and I could stay in my nice little comfort zone eating wonton soup and watching DVDs.

That was me about 10 days ago just prior to my most fabulous trip to England, where I was so stressed, so nervous, so freaked out that I was ready to scrub the entire mission and stay hidden under the blankets for a week.

I was worried about my job, my health, the plane going down, terrorists, alien invasions, and a whole slew of nameless emotional gargoyles lingering on the rim of my subconscious ready to bum-rush my brain.

But I couldn’t give into the fear. I had told just about everyone I knew that I was heading to the U.K. and it would like pretty ridiculous if I suddenly bailed on the whole shebang. And I had people to see, including fellow bloggers in London and a guy in Manchester who friended me on Facebook a few years ago called Rob Lenihan.

Yes, that’s right, we share the same name. I don’t know if we’re officially related but Rob and his family are such wonderful people that I consider them family regardless of what the DNA has to say.

In addition to Rob and the rest of that lovely Manchester crew, I also met up with one of my official cousins, Keir, and his family who were in London for a brief stay before moving on to Ireland and Barcelona.

The Chimes of Big Ben

Early on in the trip I had a fabulous meeting with Mario, the genius behind A Cuban in London, at a tea shop on Portobello Road. I also managed to visit Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, which was just across the street from my hotel.

It was incredible meeting Rob and Mario and so many others in the real world after years of communicating via the Internet.

The only disappointment was the fact that I could not meet up with the lovely and talented Jay of The Sparkling Synapse, who was suffering from a terrible flu attack.

That was tough, frankly, but I vow that I will meet this wonderful woman in person in the near future.

London is a great theater town and I saw Connor McPherson’s The Girl from the North Country and Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, both of which were incredible.

I’m also becoming an old hand at riding the Underground and I was impressed with how knowledgeable and courteous that staff were—at least the ones I met certainly were.

I realized how resistant to change I can be and traveling to a different country can cure you of that particular ailment in a hurry. You either adapt or sit around your hotel room all day.

So, yes, I’m really glad I didn’t give into temptation and cancel this trip. I met up with great family and friends, saw some terrific sites, and enjoyed some great theater. That beats a bowl of wonton soup any day of the year.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Day in the Park

I couldn’t stay in the house one second more.

It was late Saturday afternoon and I was losing my mind.

I had spent a good part of the day either at the bank or in front of my computer as I prepared for my upcoming vacation and I still hadn’t knocked off several important items on my to-do list.

I was angry at myself for blowing two hours on a Netflix detour and for failing to make plans for the day or evening—but the weather report said it was going to rain all day and I figured this would be a great time to get my chores out of the way.

Then my computer starting slowing down and my blood pressure starting climbing and, once again, I found an excuse to get angry over nothing.

When the sun finally came out at around 5pm, I grabbed a book, bolted out of the door, and made for nearby Shore Road Park where I could read, relax and rejuvenate.

And that’s when I met Jacob.

He was nine-years old and he walked right up to me, giggling and clutching a plastic ray gun. His father was right behind him and we both watched Jacob pick up a piece of cardboard that someone had left on the bench.

“Hey, buddy, how’s it going?” I asked and Jacob just giggled some more. “What’s your name?”

“His name is Jacob,” his father told me. “He’s non-verbal.”

Jacob’s dad, Carl, was accompanied by his wife and Jacob’s younger sister, who was about 5 years old and very interested in a butterfly that was flittering around the nearby bushes.

Usually this is when I start internally whining that I just want to be left alone, but this time I felt I really should put aside my anti-social tendencies and talk with these people.

That piece of cardboard could be folded into a bank and Carl began putting it together while Jacob laughed and tried to snatch it away from him.

Carl told me that he had moved to Shore Road a few years ago, that his family was Norwegian and we talked about how his people once ruled Bay Ridge.

Is This Seat Taken?

“We still have the Norwegian Day Parade every May,” I said. “It was a big deal when I was a kid. The mayor used to come and give a speech.”

“Yeah,” Carl said, “but it’s much smaller now.”

Carl told me he was 56 years old, apparently thinking I’d be shocked, but then I told him that I’d just turned 60 in May.

By now Carl had finished the cardboard bank and he handed it to his son, who began tossing it at my head. Carl was trying to get him to stop, but I assured him I didn’t mind—and I really didn’t.

As they walked away, Carl nodded to me.

“Thank you for your patience,” he said.

Patience? In my six decades of existence no one, and I mean absolutely no one has ever thanked me for my patience. I thought of that grouchy nitwit who was cursing at his computer just a short time ago.

And I thought of Carl and his wife, the kind of patience these people must have to handle Jacob—from the very second they open their eyes in the morning they have to watch him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.

They’re not a young couple—this could be a second family for both of them—so it looks like they’ll be taking care of Jacob for as long as they live.

I’m trying to actually learn something from this experience about life, devotion, and yes, patience, instead doing my usual routine of bashing myself in a coma with a guilt-studded club, which doesn’t do anybody a damn bit of good.

I didn’t get much reading done on Saturday, but that family had given me a story I will never forget.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Under My Umbrella

At least the umbrella lady was nice to me.

My identify theft woes continued this week when my bank sent me an email asking if I had authorized some yin-yang called Jorge Osoria to use my credit card, which of course I hadn’t. So, I had to dump another yet another credit card.

This latest bit of misery follows my recent run-in with cyber-cretin Ruth Dingfield, who taunted me via email and whom I would cheerfully ding with a frying pan and bury in a field of skunkweed.

The bank security woman told me that it’s probably some malware in my computer that could be reading my actual key strokes. (If that’s the case, Jorge, tell me what this says: “F-U-C-K-Y-O-U!”)

I had already done a malware search and turned up nothing, but I downloaded a new program which took nearly eight hours to review every scrap of information in my computer and do you know what it found?

Absolutely nothing. So, however these humps are getting to my account, it ain’t happening on my end.

Things got even worse on Friday when I got this feeling my checking account was a little low. And it was low for the very simple reason that some scum sucking son-of-a-bitch was taking money out of it.

Naturally I freaked and called my bank screaming like a loon. They shut down my account and refunded my money, but I don’t really see this misery ending any time soon. Clearly there’s a breach and no one seems to be able to stop it.

Now I have to go back and have all the automatic payments and deductions—like direct deposit and my credit card and cable TV bills—and set them up with the new account.

All that summer we enjoyed it...

I feel like I’m the criminal here, trying to hide what is rightfully mind, while some misbegotten mole rat with a keyboard merrily wipes his boots on my privacy.

And I feel stupid, convinced that, despite what the virus scan says, this is all somehow my fault. As a reporter, I’ve done plenty of stories about cybersecurity and now I’m the one getting nailed. It’s not a good feeling.

Which brings me back to the umbrella Iady. After all this grief, I was in pretty serious need of a kind gesture and I got it Friday as I was trying to leave my gym in the middle of a monsoon.

I thought the rain would have eased up by the time I finished my workout but I called that one wrong, too. I stood in the gym’s lobby watching the deluge while time slipped down the drain.

I had neglected to take my umbrella because I couldn’t find it and even if I could I’d be embarrassed to use it since it’s falling apart.

There’s a CVS right next store to my gym so I thought this would be a great time to finally deliver on my promise to get a new bumbershoot.

I was about to make the mad dash out the door when a cleaning lady who works at the gym told me to stop. She didn’t speak English very well, but she indicated that she would let me share her umbrella with her.

It was such a kind offer and the timing was perfect given all the online agony I was living through.

Out we went into the deluge and she laughed when she realized how short my walk actually was. But it’s not the distance, it’s the decency that counts. I thanked her profusely, entered the CVS and promptly purchased an umbrella big enough to protect the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Now if I could only get something to keep Jorge Osoria out of my life...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dream of My Father

My father and I had a nice chat the other night, even though he died 10 years ago.

This was a dream, of course, but I was grateful to have a enjoyable meeting with my dad, even if I had to be asleep to make it happen.

I was standing in my parent’s bedroom at our family’s old house on Senator Street, where I used to sleep after they died.

Apparently, I was still living there because I was putting away some clothes when my father just strolled into the room and started talking to me.

He was elderly, but in relatively good condition, a sharp contrast to his final years, when dementia and mounting physical problems had robbed him of so much of his memory and mobility.

I can’t remember one single thing we talked about, but I do remember that it was a pleasant conversation. There was no arguing, no shouting, no rude interruptions, or sarcastic remarks that marred far too many of our real-life encounters.

One thing from the dream does stand out very clearly in my mind: after my father and I had talked for a while, my dad started telling me about the health benefits of coffee and advised me to start drinking the stuff.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, no how, no way, and I don’t see that changing now despite my father’s good intentions.

So why this dream at that particular time? I believe my subconscious was searching for peace and reassurance.

No Tea or Tomato Juice

I was flying to the Midwest that morning, and, as usual, I was nervous as hell.

My fear of flying is legendary and can only be abated by serious amounts of Xanax.

On top of that, I hate dealing with people at the airports because I’m convinced that there will be some bit of paperwork, some form of identification that I forgot, or something will be wrong with my boarding pass, and then I’ll be drop-kicked out of the door like an old suitcase and be forced to watch my plane depart from the ground with all the other rubes.

And, to be unblinkingly honest, I still have some lingering resentments toward my dad—yes, even after all these years. The hostile memories serve no earthly purpose now, except to make me unhappy, yet I keep hitting the rewind button in my mind and go through them one more time.

So, I really needed to calm down and move on and I think my mind chose a peaceable talk with my father to help me do both.

My brain was making a peace offering to myself and telling me to let go of the fear and bitterness, and all that other grief from the past.

And I have to say it worked because when I woke up I felt very calm and relaxed--not relaxed enough to board the plane without a bucketful of tranquilizers—let’s not be ridiculous here--but I was amazingly serene considering I was scheduled to be streaking through the sky in just a few hours.

The Midwest trip was an absolute blast and I’m happy to report that I didn’t get bounced off any planes. I’ve got another trip coming up in August and I’m sure my mind will be searching for more calming images to get me through that adventure.

I’d better put on a pot of coffee.