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.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Up, Up, Up!

Ruth Dingfield can go to Hell…

Today is the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’m thinking of how she used to try and cheer me up whenever I was feeling down.

She knew me so well that I didn’t even have to say anything when I was upset.

She’d see this morose look on my face, give me a most beautiful smile and, referring to my spirits, she’d say, “up, up, up!”

I wish I had listened to her when she was alive. I wish I had kept a more positive attitude around her and showed that I was making an effort to be happy, instead of playing the victim far too often.

And I could sure use her help today.

My bank account was hacked last week and the sons-of-bitches were able to get my birthday and my Social Security number, which is pretty much everything in today’s society.

I thought I had taken care of things by changing the password on my bank account, but then I got a call from Bank America checking to see if I had applied for a credit card.

Of course, I hadn’t.

Then they told me that someone using my name had applied for a credit card at TD Bank. So, I called them and asked to please rip up that fraudulent application.

I feel violated, exposed and stupid. I’m blaming myself even though over 15 million people are the victims of identity theft each year.

Social Insecurity

And that brings me back to Ruth Dingfield. When I first saw this bogus email address on my bank account page I wrote to the sender just to see what was going on.

I got some vague response and then when the credit card fraud came up I wrote back telling this scumbag to cease and desist. And “Ruth Dingfield” responded.

“Rob, I’m the one who stole your identify,” the email said. “Do you wanna know who I really am?”

No, I don’t. I wanna see swinging by your neck from the Eiffel Tower with a harpoon through your head. Do you think you could arrange that?

It was creepy actually getting a response from this denizen of the Dark Web, but I guess this is the world in which we live now.

Anonymous thieves crash into other people’s lives, help themselves, and then move on to the next victim.

I contacted the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS about the hack and I had to boost the security on my bank account so now I have more passwords than Mata Hari. And I still don’t feel safe.

I’ve got a new credit card and now I freak every time I see a charge I don’t recognize, convinced the bastards have hacked me again.

And it angers me that I’m writing about this bum today of all days, when I really should be focusing on my mother.

I’m feeling all sorts of pressure both personally and professionally and this latest round of misery isn’t helping. I strongly suspect this business with the hacking is going to get worse—possibly much worse—before it gets any better.

But since I’m calling up all these memories of my mom, perhaps the best thing to do is take her advice and aim high when life leaves you low.

Up, up, up…

(I'll be taking of next week for a very important trip. See you soon)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Hat Crime

Poco Loco esta perdido…

Please forgive me if my grammar is off, but I’m in mourning. I lost my Poco Loco Club hat this week and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I had gotten this blue cap sometime in the early 90s, possibly on a trip to Mexico when I covered then-Connecticut Governor John Rowland’s trip south of the border.

The cap sported the cartoony image of a toucan in red-polka dot shorts with the name that means “A Little Crazy.” And I was more than a little crazy when I discovered it was gone.

Yes, the cap was losing its color and shape and I was seriously thinking about tossing the thing away. But I wanted that to be a conscious choice and not as a result of negligence.

My auntie has relocated to her summer place in the Berkshires for the next few months and I had gone to her apartment to clean out the refrigerator and do a few other chores.

I had been there earlier in the week and had forgotten the Poco Loco hat.

Once I was done, I gathered up my backpack, stuffed the cap inside it, and bounced up to the express bus stop at West 30th Street.

I was strolling up to Fifth Avenue when I saw the light was about to change and I launched into my rat-psycho mode and took off running.

You have to understand that showing a changing traffic light to a New Yorker is like throwing down the gauntlet.

Loco Motion

Other people will wait until the light changes in their favor, but a New Yorker will shriek “get the hell outta my way!” and take off as if Satan has just climbed out of the nearest sewer.

I charged across the avenue and raced to the bus stop to wait for a bus that was nowhere in sight. But at least I showed that street light who was boss.

And apparently somewhere in that mad dash I managed to drop the Poco Loco sombrero. Naturally I didn’t discover the loss until I was on the bus and heading back to Brooklyn.

The toucan had flown the coop and I was feeling muy estúpido. One of the oldest warnings in history says to “hold on to your hat!” How did I fuck that up?

Yes, this is only a battered cap that should’ve been nuked a long time. But I was so annoyed at my carelessness, that I had actually ran across the street with my backpack half-opened and expected everything to be perfectly in place when I finally stopped.


I’m always running someplace, damn it, and I don’t think I have a hell of a lot to show for it.

I googled “Poco Loco” and found someone was selling an atrocious canary yellow version of the cap on eBay.

Someone else was peddling a “vintage” long-sleeved shirt with the logo emblazoned across the front.

I’ve resolved to be more careful with my backpack and try—really try—to be a little less loco when I see a yellow caution light.

I hope some needy person found that little toucan and is giving him a nice home on top of his or her head.

And I really hope they give that bird a new pair of pants. Those polka-dot things have gotta go…

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Wild About Something

It started out with “Open Your Heart to Me” and it kept on going from there.

I went on an impromptu Madonna binge the other night, which is strange, seeing as I was never a particularly big fan of hers.

The other day I was screwing around with YouTube instead of writing, something I do far too often, and after playing one of her songs for old times’ sake, things just kind of snowballed from there.

By “old times” I mean the Eighties, which I still think of as the recent past, when the decade is in reality 30 freaking years ago. (Oh, Jesus, I’m glad I’m sitting down.)

YouTube ran the table with “Like A Prayer,” “Live to Tell,” “Express Yourself,” “Crazy for You,” “Holiday” and, of course, “Material Girl.”

Yes, it’s pop music, but it’s really well done pop music and once these tunes get into your head, it’s hard to get them out.

My nostalgia trip started when I rented Something Wild, Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film that stars Jeff Daniels as an New York executive, whose life is hijacked by a strange young woman, portrayed Melanie Griffith, and winds up in Pennsylvania going head-to-head with Ray Liotta, who plays Ms. Griffith’s psycho husband.

I’m a huge fan of Ray Liotta’s, which I think is why I rented film in the first place. And I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania for about five years, though most of the movie was shot in Florida.

I remember when this movie first came out, but I never got around to seeing it until now. And now that I have seen it, I’m still not even sure if I liked the damn thing or not, but it’s still sticking with me.

The story is alluring, a nice fantasy of taking off from the routine and finding romance and danger, but I didn’t buy into it.

You Make My Heart Sing

But, most of all, I think I rented the movie because I wanted to slide back to the 1980s. I love the music from that era and the clothes—skinny ties, unstructured jackets. And I was a huge fan of Miami Vice, at least initially.

Now to be brutally honest, the Eighties wasn’t the greatest decade for me. I was struggling with my health, my career, and my life. The latter portion particularly sucked if I remember correctly, though the memory is a little vague.

But I was younger and, even though I had a lot of negativity in my heart, I still felt there were possibilities for me.

That was the decade I got into journalism—or more accurately, backed in journalism, since I wasn’t sure what the hell I wanted to do for a living--until I became famous, of course.

I just thought that reporting was something I would do for just a short time before my novel or my screenplays took off and I would soon be working people like Jonathan Demme.

The movie opens up with a nice bouncy salsa tune performed by David Byrne and Celia Cruz as the camera travels up the East River and we get a nice clear view of the Twin Towers, which we all thought would stand forever.

It ends with a Jamaican singer named Sister Carol doing her own version of "Wild Thing."

I’m not going to give away too much of the plot, but if you’ve seen enough movies I doubt if you’ll be terribly surprised by anything that happens in Something Wild.

Ray Liotta looks so young I couldn’t believe it was him. In the film, he shows up at a high school with reunion with a young woman played by Margaret Colin. She now plays Ray Liotta’s wife on the NBC cop show Shades of Blue.

Jonathan Demme, who went on to direct Married to the Mob, Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died earlier this year. He was 73 years old.

After all this time, the movie is more of an artifact than art. I just can’t get it out of my head.

Kind of like a Madonna song.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fools and Drunkards

One of the toughest things for a reporter to do is speak with a victim’s family.

During my five years as a police reporter in the Poconos, I had to interview—or attempt to interview—people who had lost their loved ones due to fires, crashes, or crime.

It was a grim business, obviously, since answering a stranger’s questions about a deceased or injured family member was the very last thing that people wanted to do.

I tried to be sensitive to their suffering, but I always felt like a rat for intruding on their grief during one of the worst moments of their lives.

Some people told me to go to Hell, hung up on me or ordered me off their property. But there were others who willingly answered my questions.

One man, whose father had committed suicide by burning their house down, shook my hand, and, with tears in his eyes, actually apologized for not being able to speak to me. I didn’t know what to say to him.

I got a little better at approaching people as the years went by, but it was never easy. And there was this one time when something totally unexpected happened.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Stroudsburg, Pa. circa 1991. I was at the Pocono Record’s old Lenox Street building when the scanner went berserk, erupting with all kinds of signals for mayhem.

I listen to the windstorm of police and fire codes and realized that someone had either fallen or jumped nearby into McMichael Creek.

The dispatcher was calling the police, the fire department, and—most serious of all—a MedEvac helicopter for the flight down to Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown. This was nasty.

I raced out the door fully expecting to meet up with Bob Allen, the county coroner, and get the lowdown on the victim.

The scene was so close to the paper that I’m not even sure if I took my car. But how ever I got there, I ran into the middle of all the confusion looking for eyewitnesses.

Man Overboard

And then I saw her.

There was a rather tough looking woman in her fifties standing near a police car and I immediately sensed that she knew the victim—wife or girlfriend, and she could give me some good material for my story.

I took a deep breath. There was a strong possibility that she’d blow up, call me all kinds of horrible names, and maybe even attack me. But I had to at least try to get an interview. So, I walked up to her.

“Excuse me, miss,” I said softly. “I’m sorry to bother, but I’m with the Pocono Record and I wanted to ask you about the man who fell into the creek—”


He’s an asshole!” she shrieked and then promptly stormed away.

I stood there in shook. People usually tell me how kind and considerate the victim had been. Was this any way to talk about the dearly and very recently departed?

And then I looked into the police car and saw a man, also in his fifties, soaking wet, handcuffed, and grinning like an idiot.

That was the guy, the one who had gone into the creek. But he wasn’t dead or even hurt in any way. He seemed to be the only one having a good time.

The cops said he and his lady friend had been drinking rather heavily at a nearby rat hole of a bar when for reasons unknown he threatened to jump into the creek.

She waved him off, though, so he promptly made good on his promise-diving into some rather deep and turbulent waters and earning himself a ride to the county jail in the process.

I went back and told me editor what had happened and he decided that we would give the story very little play—nothing more than a blotter item—to avoid inspiring copycatting nitwits.

I was a little concerned about suppressing the news, but I think he made the right call.

When I went to the local YMCA the next morning to work out, I mentioned the incident to some of the guys in the locker room and they all laughed.

“What a story!” one of them said.

For the record, that was a very stupid stunt that wasted time, money and energy, and potentially diverted the first responders from a real emergency.

But that was one hell of a quote.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Who Goes There?

World War II stories aren’t the same anymore.

I’ve been reading novels and watching films about the Second World War for decades, but lately I find them to be more upsetting than I once did.

They remind me of my father, who was a WWII veteran himself, and just how awful the war must have been for him.

He told me some incredible stories about his time in the army, and I loved hearing them, of course, even when he repeated them over and over. I couldn’t get enough.

But I’m starting to see the darker side of his stories, the things he didn’t tell me.

He’s been gone for several years and I’m only now getting some idea of how much he must have suffered during those terrible days, when he was just a young man in his twenties.

He must’ve been in constant fear, dodging bullets, scrambling for shelter during artillery attacks and witnessing his friends getting killed. That fear—and a lot of good luck—probably kept him alive.

My father was part of the generation that was supposed to put down the rifle, pick up the briefcase, and return to civilian life as if they had all been away on a camping trip.

This is absurd, of course. How could you possibly go through these horrible experiences and emerge unscathed?

That’s just a fantasy that politicians and civilians like to tell themselves so they don’t have to think about the damaged people walking among them. And it makes it easier to sell the next war.

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of a story my father told me many years ago while we were driving down the BQE one night.

He and his platoon had gone out on a night patrol somewhere in France, I believe.

Friend or Foe?

As they walked through the dark woods, they saw the silhouette of a soldier up ahead of them. They weren’t sure who the guy was and then he asked them what time it was—in German.

Realizing the enemy was just a short distance away, one of dad’s buddies who could speak German responded in the soldier’s native language.

“He thought we were Germans,” my father said, “and he walked right up to us.”

My dad paused at this moment and when he spoke again, his voice was somewhat subdued.

“Yeah,” he said, “they cut his throat.”

Did you catch that? My father had shifted from the first to the third person, from “we” to “they” as if distancing himself from this gruesome killing.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that these GIs had no choice. If that soldier had yelled, the whole German army could’ve come charging in after him.

I guess that’s why wars suck so much for the people actually have to fight them. Decent people are forced to become savages just to stay alive.

My father was ready to do his job. He had a particular hatred for snipers, whom he considered to be cowards who would kill a few soldiers to slow down an advance and then do the old “I surrender” routine.

But I think this incident was different. This really wasn’t combat, where you’re trying to kill somebody who’s trying to do the same thing to you.

This poor bastard just got careless and it cost him his life. That could happen to anyone at any time in any war.

I wish I could’ve talked with my father more openly about his experiences during the war, but I doubt if he would’ve responded. He wanted to look strong to his family, which is perfectly understandable, but so terribly unnecessary.

Perhaps we would’ve gotten along better if I had a better sense of what it was like for him. But it’s too late for that, so now I’ll say what I always say at this most important time of the year.

Happy Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Junk in the Trunk

There’s a void in my life and I’m loving every inch of it.

For the last eight months, I have been sharing my living room with the lifeless carcasses of my old TV, DVD player, and printer.

I got a new TV and DVD player in October and a new printer before that, but instead of junking the junk appliances, I merely moved the deceased devices a few inches over to the right and…just left them there.

You may be wondering why I did this? I know I sure as hell am.

Why in God’s holy name did I elect to keep this zombie pile of tubes, circuits, and wires prominently displayed in my home for nearly a year as if it were a Warhol original?

Well, I’m sorry to say the answer is similar to the same excuse I offered when I took so long to buy a new TV in the first goddamn place. I was afraid to make a decision.

I couldn’t carry that monstrous TV down three flights of stairs because of my bad back and the sanitation crew wouldn’t take it even if I could because of the restrictions on tossing out old electronics.

Which meant I would have to hire someone to do it and risk—dramatic pause—making the wrong decision.

Now how the hell anyone could pick the wrong junk man I don’t honestly know, but this irrational fear caused my brain to overload and drove me to do what I do best—which is nothing.

Every morning I’d get up, walk out to the living room to meditate and stretch and that crap heap would be one of the first things I’d see.

Things deteriorated to a point where I unknowingly accepted this unacceptable situation, subconsciously deciding that this flotsam and jetsam was a permanent part of stately Robbo manor.

Haul, Yeah!

This is a seriously corrupt state of mind and it can extend far beyond holding onto garbage. If you’re not careful you can find yourself unwittingly agreeing to all sorts of unpleasant situations, thoughts, and people.

Last week I finally got fed up. I was sick of telling myself, “oh, yeah, you’ve got to find someone to haul this crap” and set about to actually find someone to haul that crap.

And I soon learned that it was pretty easy. I jumped on Craigslist and got two quotes that I thought were a little pricy at $200 and $225 respectively.

A third outfit offered to take the stuff for fifty bucks and I regret not owning a gavel so I crack it down upon my old TV like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and shout “sold!”

The young fellow who agreed to take my junk took most of Thursday to get here, constantly texting me that he was close by but never showing up.


I started going through my “wrong decision” routine, but I couldn’t see any potential confab in blowing off the appointment. Unless you’re working an internet scam, you pretty much have to show up before you can rip off.

The dude finally arrived after dinner, apparently coming to Bay Ridge by way of Montreal, tossed that big old TV in a battered pickup and revved up the engine.

I was going to tip him five bucks, but after he claimed to be light on smaller denominations, I handed over three twenties and wished him Godspeed. If that was a scam, it was pretty mild.

I was stunned when I went back upstairs and looked down upon that beautiful blank space next to the TV table.

I felt 50 pounds lighter and much happier now that the honored dead had finally been shuffled off to Buffalo, Brazil, Bensonhurst or wherever the hell that guy took it.

And I have big plans for my newly created gap. I’m going to install…nothing, zilch, nada, niente, and ugatz. (Do you sense a theme here?)

I want to enjoy the wide-open space in all its primal beauty and so I will not put a single thing in that newly liberated zone.

Sorry, Andy.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Home Again, Home Again

I frantically dug my phone out of my pocket, dialed my sister’s number, and began my meltdown.

“Joan!” I wailed as the tears started to flow, “I stopped by the house on Senator Street and it was a bad idea!”

I had returned to my family’s home for the first time in nearly three years last week and I didn’t handle it very well.

The morning had started off with a visit to the Good Fortune Supermarket, the site of the old Fortway Theater on Fort Hamilton Avenue to research a book project I’m working on.

On the way there, I stopped by McKinley Park, which I had not visited in years. My sister tells me that our mother used to take us there when we were children, but I’m sorry to say I have no memory of that.

After revisiting the Good Fortune, I walked through nearby Leif Ericson Park, which was filled parents, kids, and elderly people, most of whom were Chinese, much like the rest of the neighborhood.

From there, I walked down to Sixth Avenue, where I spotted the Sixth Avenue Electrical Supply Corp., formerly Karl Droge Ice Cream, my second home on sweltering summer nights when I was growing up.

This is where I used to go with my friends—and everybody else in the neighborhood—for fabulous Italian ices that could drain the heat right out of any August evening. There’s a church right across the street, but back then Karl Droge was the real holy place.

The building was just two blocks from my family’s home and I figured, oh, hell, I’ve come this far, why not stroll up Senator Street?

Time Machine

Big mistake.

I thought I could deal with this. I’ve driven down this block many times with my sister and I didn’t think it would be a problem.

However, as I got closer to the house, when I saw these beautiful flowers in the garden, where my mother used to do her planting, when I saw the new fence and the ceiling fan in the upstairs apartment, when I saw a car in the driveway, when I realized that people, honest to God people were living here now, I started to fall apart.

A nighttime drive-by is one thing, but a slow walk on a sunny Saturday afternoon is quite different.

I hung around the house for a few minutes, shocked at how quickly the years had gone by.

Then a man walked down the driveway and entered the house and I wanted to speak with him, tell him that I grew up here and that I had so many memories, but nothing came out of my mouth.

I regret it now, but at the time I felt foolish. What does he care about who used to live here?

I started to walk down the driveway to look at the back garden when I reminded myself that I was about to walk on to somebody else's property.

My sister wasn’t home when I called, as she had gone hiking where she could enjoy the here and now, instead of blundering around the past.

I finally walked up the block and headed for home. I guess it was a mistake to visit the old house, but I don’t regret it. I wanted to see.

I would like to go back to Senator Street again someday and maybe even speak with the new owners.

But I’m going to need some time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Moving Story

With all this talk of books and authors lately, I’m reminded of a certain subway ride I took many years ago and one of the most exciting reading experiences I’ve ever had.

This was in the early Eighties and the book in question was Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby.

My interest in the novel was stirred by a theatrical production which came to Broadway from London in 1981.

The show made headlines because it was nearly nine hours long—theatergoers had a choice of attending two nights or seeing the whole show in one setting—and because tickets were going for the then-unheard of price of $100 each.

Today, of course, one hundred bucks is pretty much the going rate for a show on the Great White Way.

We didn’t have that kind of money back then, but my family had a fabulous time watching a televised version of the London production that was simulcast on the local public television and radio channels.

The late Roger Rees played the title role and he was supported by an incredible cast of talented actors.

The show ran for three or four consecutive nights and each evening we’d switch on the TV, tune in this beautiful old German radio we kept in the living room, and travel to this wonderful world filled with these incredible characters.

And each morning at breakfast we’d talk about what had happened the night before. It was such an enjoyable time that I just had to read the book.

So that’s how I happened to be one the N train one night coming home from work when I got to the scene where our hero Nicholas squared off against the most horrible schoolmaster on earth, Wackford Squeers.

Raise the Devil

Squeers is a corrupt lowlife who runs Dotheboys Hall, a hellhole of a boarding school where the kids are beaten with savage regularity.

As I read the book, I was just dying for Nicholas to pound this hump right through the floorboards.

Dickens takes his time, though, slowly building up to a rousing confrontation where Squeers is beating the hapless cripple Smike.

The N train was just pulling out of Union Square when I got to the part where Nicholas orders Squeers to cease and desist.

“This must not go on!” he declares, and I gripped the strap handle. This loser's going down!

Squeers, of course, has not intention of stopping and he threatens Nicholas with a beating if he gets in the way.

“Have a care,” Nicholas warns him, “for if you do raise the devil within me, the consequences shall fall heavily upon your own head!”

Hit him, Nicholas, I roared inside my head, hit the son-of-a-bitch!

And that’s when Squeers cracks Nicholas across the face with the whip and our hero proceeds to beat the ever-loving shit out of the sadistic warthog.

I completely forgot that I was in the middle of a packed subway car because through the power of Dickens’s writing I had been transported through time and space to that 19th Century Yorkshire school.

Kill him! I silently shouted. Kill that one-eyed scumbag!

No one on that train could have guessed the emotions I was going through at that moment. From the outside, I was just another commuter. In my mind, though, I was the one clobbering Squeers into a coma.

And I think it's important to point out that I had enjoyed this rewarding experience without any of today's technology--no iPhone, no iPad; it was just my eyeballs.

Somehow, I managed to get home without missing my stop or scaring the other passengers. And thanks to Charles Dickens I had taken an incredible journey--without ever leaving the N train.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Zero to Sixty

“The only way to deal with the future is to function efficiently in the Now.” – Gita Bellin

I can’t believe I said “yes.”

Accepting a simple dinner invitation may not sound like a daring leap into the unknown but it felt like a milestone for me.

I’ll explain in a minute, but, first let’s get right to the big news:

As of today I am 60 years old.

Yes, that’s right, we’re talking six decades here, people. I am amazed, stunned, somewhat frightened, and, above all, thankful that I am still walking the earth and not residing under it.

I’m doing my best not to freak out at that sizeable digit, but it hasn't been easy. I mean, how in the four-alarm hell did this happen?

How in God’s name did that adorable little kid attending classes at Our Lady of Angels Catholic School morph into a hairless crank with creaking bones who hears voices and receives flyers from both senior citizen homes and burial plot salesmen in the same day’s mail? (One at a time, boys, please.)

I would demand a recount but I’m afraid I might actually be older.

Arthur, one of my writing class friends, calmed my nerves when I expressed dismay about my age.

“The sixties was a good decade for me,” he said. “You know what you want. You’re more sure of yourself.”

It felt so good to hear this. I still have lots of questions tumbling around my head, but I do feel a bit more confident than I have in the past. And I’m also caring less and less about what people think of me.

Without Further Ado...

I decided I’d give myself the gift of peace today, liberating yours truly, at least for one day, from the fear, the self-loathing, the regret, the anger, and all those other toxic emotions I inflict upon my poor soul on a daily basis.

I started celebrating early, going out on Saturday with my beloved sister and auntie for a stroll around the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and then on to Wing Hing, my favorite Chinese restaurant for a fabulous feast.

On Tuesday, I had the distinct pleasure of introducing and interviewing the writer Neville Frankel, who read from his latest novel On the Sickle’s Edge at the Bookmark Shoppe in Bay Ridge, where I had my own reading.


Louise Crawford, the publicist for my book, Born Speaking Lies, had asked me to help out and I’m so glad she did.

The evening was pure magic. Neville is a fabulous writer and a captivating speaker.

I learned so much during our discussion, particularly about historical fiction, a genre that both fascinates and intimidates me.

I was all set to go home when Louise invited me to join her, Neville, and a bunch of other folks for dinner.

And I said “yes.”

I’ve gotten so accustomed to turning down or avoiding invitations in favor of heading home to my empty apartment that I actually surprised myself by answering in the affirmative for once.

Of course, I have things to do. I want to finish the first draft of my next book by year’s end; I want to pitch my screenplays to agents, and I have to revise a short story I recently completed. And don't even get me started about that short film I want to shoot.

But I knew in my heart that I couldn’t miss out on a dinner with such talented, gracious people.

The years go by so quickly it makes no sense to miss out on good times and good people.

Yes. I like the sound of that.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Friends in Need

“All this time the man who killed me will not die.” – Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings

I recently discovered the work of Marlon James.

This didn’t happen by way of a book review, or media buzz, internet message boards, or even the old time word of mouth routine.

I became aware of his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings while walking home from the store one morning when I looked down and saw a single page from the book on the street.

It was page 585 and 586 of the 704-page novel about postcolonial Jamaica that Entertainment Weekly called “nothing short of awe-inspiring.”

I probably should’ve kept walking, as I’ve got enough paper, books, and other assorted crap in my house already.

But as a reader and someone who has published his own book, I felt badly that an author’s work had been abused like this.

Published by Riverhead Press, A Brief History of Seven Killings is James’ third won the 2015 Man Booker Prize, a first for a Jamaican-born author.

And here was this single page from a prize-winning book blowing around the gutter.

It would be a shame if someone deliberately destroyed the book, but not at all surprising in this age of intolerance. I just have no way of knowing.

The wind can blow very strongly off the Narrows, so this single page might’ve traveled a long way before it came into my line of sight.

I don’t begin to compare myself to Marlon James, of course, but I do understand how difficult it is to write a book. Doubts pile up as you struggle to find just the right words that will bring your story to life.

You end up throwing out a lot of your work—at least I sure as hell do—as you write, rewrite, and rewrite so more.

Given all that grief, writers can’t be faulted for wanting their work to live forever, as unlikely as that sounds, rather than being ripped up into confetti.

Page-Turner

My parents always stressed the importance of reading and my mother liked to say “books are our friends.”



Books have been such an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, starting with Dr. Seuss, to the Hardy Boys, and going on to Ken Kesey, whose Sometimes A Great Notion changed my life—seriously.

I frankly don’t a read enough now, especially since I don’t commute to an office anymore.

I’ve read so many books while riding the subways and buses in this town. It’s the best way to deal with the crowds and the delays and the lunatics—as long as the lights stay on.

So I’ve decided I’m going to make an effort to read more every day.

I didn’t like my seventh-grade teacher worth a damn, but I do respect for him for the time he urged us all to read by telling us “with books you can go anywhere.”

It’s vital for children to develop reading skills, especially now that we have all these distractions. Curling up with good book has never been more important.

Books as I knew them appear to be an endangered species as more and more people choose eBooks over the real thing. I have no interest in reading eBooks, but then I haven’t really tried them yet, so I suppose I shouldn’t judge.

When I was in the fifth grade, Mrs. Toomey, my Cub Scout den mother, encouraged us all to find a damaged book and repair it.

I actually carried out that assignment, but don’t ask me what particular book I salvaged or whatever become of it. I’m just happy I did it.

It’s a shame that I can’t repair A Brief History of Seven Killings, but I’ve decided I going to get a copy of the book and read the other 700-odd pages.

And I’ll take good care of it, too, because you can never have too many friends.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wherever I Wander

That was one very active my bear.

I was digging through my junk box the other day in an underwhelming attempt to clean up and organize when I came across a Mother’s Day card I had given to my mom nearly 30 years ago.

I have so many cards and notes that I’ve given or received from my parents over the years and I just can’t part with them.

This particular card was the one I had given to my mom on Mother’s Day 1988 when I was moving out of my home in Brooklyn to take a job at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa.

I was so worried about starting a new job and relocating to a new town that I had unthinkingly agreed to take the position without realizing that I was leaving for my new home was the very day that we’re supposed honor our mothers.

So, in addition to worry, fear, and creeping terror, I added an unhealthy serving of guilt a la mode that pretty much squashed any remaining traces of sanity that I had left.

But it’s not like I was moving to New Zealand. I was heading up the Poconos, which was only about 90 minutes away. Some people actually commute to New York every day, for God’s sake.

Going to the card store was a grim affair as I alternated between anguish about the new job—which I was convinced I couldn’t handle—and shame for deserting my mother on this most special holiday.

I stumbled around the aisles trying to find something suitable—and that’s what I came upon the traveling bear

The card has the image of a young bear riding on the back of an elephant and standing on sail boat as he travels the world.

Paws Button

To Mom, with Love,” the copy reads, “Wherever I wander...wherever I roam…

Upon opening the card, the young bear is approaching his family home and ready to step in to loving arms of his mother.

“…wherever my mother is will always be home,” the card concludes.


I cried the first time I saw this card and I’m in pretty rough shape right now. My mom has been gone for 15 years, but Mother’s Day can be a real trial.

During my junk box search I also rediscovered a couple of my mother’s old notebooks, including one with a portrait of William Shakespeare on the cover that I had bought for her during a vacation in London circa 1990.

Most of the pages are blank, but there are some notes in her handwriting, listing books, stores, and films and other items of interest.

How to Become Financially Successful by Owning Your Own Business, is the title of one of the books my mother wanted to buy, showing how she was always looking for ways to get ahead.

My mother also wrote down the name of a Columbia University film professor who had founded an independent film company.

Given my interest in filmmaking, I’m convinced my mother wrote this down for my benefit. She probably told me about it, too, but, dope that I am, I doubt if I followed up on it.

We eventually got through that Mother’s Day, and I lived in Pennsylvania for five years before moving to Connecticut and finally back to New York in 1998.

I didn’t wander like that greeting card bear, but I’m so grateful I had a mother who always made me feel at home.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Wheels in Motion

With all this car service grief I’ve been going through lately, I forgot to tell you about Rob.

Not me, this Rob is the driver who took me Penn Station for my trip to Philadelphia, the one who showed up right on time and ferried me straight to Penn Station without incident, but with plenty of style.

He works for the same company that so royally screwed up my return trip from Penn Station, but I’m certainly not holding that against him.

Rob isn’t a young man, or even middle-aged. No, he’s in his seventies and I confess I was a little surprised by his advanced years when I first saw him, which is somewhat ironic, given the fact that I’m turning 60 in a few weeks.

Rob is also a former hairdresser and gay. I know all this because he told me so within the first five minutes of picking me up.

“I’m a gay hairdresser!” Rob told me at least twice as we drove down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

He was quite a change from the drivers I usually get, who are typically Middle Eastern with a limited command of the English language. And most of them are Muslims.

“I’m sure they don’t like me,” Rob said of his coworkers. “But that’s all right. I’m not inviting them over for tea.”

We talked about how Brooklyn has changed so dramatically over the last few years, and how expensive some formerly horrific neighborhoods have become.

“I picked up three young girls who had paid a fortune for this tiny apartment,” Rob said, “and I told them ‘you’re all assholes!’”

Well, there goes that tip. Rob said he used to be a hairdresser for a one-hit wonder Sixties star whose name escapes me and he used to travel with her when she took her act on the road. Now he drives for the car service to pick up some extra cash.

“People love riding with me,” Rob said. “I play great music, I tell great stories, and I bathe regularly.”

So, Like I Was Saying…

Rob has a young boyfriend who is in forties, but he’s realistic about the relationship.

“Listen,” he said, “at my age I’m a John and I know it.”

Rob is keeping his current beau around through various acts of tender bribery, like buying a pair of tickets to the recent Barbra Streisand concert at the Barclay Center.

However, it seems the boyfriend has a bit of drug problem and the guy prefers getting high at home to going out of the town—and Rob is getting a little fed up.

Gee, I seem to know a lot about this guy’s life, don’t I? But it was a great ride and Rob is a real trip. I was feeling extremely anxious about the conference in Philly and Rob did a lot to calm me down.

I probably won’t see him again, as I have parted ways with that car service.

I even spoke with a woman from the Taxi & Limousine Commission about that atrocious night who told me that it is unlikely the company will be cited for leaving me high and dry in the middle of a monsoon.

Apparently, there’s no law against being incompetent losers, but that’s okay. I’d rather just drop the whole thing and get on with my life.

However, it seems my luck with car service drivers is still in the basement.

On Thursday I took a car home from my writing class in Park Slope and the driver must’ve been new in town...and on the planet.

“Where are you going?” I said with alarm as my exit on the BQE came and went.

“You said Shore Road.”

“Yeah,” I wailed, “but you’re heading to Staten Island!”

I directed this yin-yang off the highway just short of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, guided him to my house, and gave him a less-than-impressive tip.

I tell you, there’s never a gay hairdresser around when you need one.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Philadelphia Story

At the end of William Goldman’s 1960 novel Soldier in the Rain, Eustice Clay, a beleaguered soldier who’s been on a run of appallingly bad of luck, looks up into a stormy sky and expresses his true feelings.

“Fuck you,” he says to the angry clouds.

After the week I just went through, I know exactly how he feels.

I, too, was standing in the middle of deluge, only I was outside Pennsylvania Station, and instead of directing my rage up to the stratosphere, I aimed my anger straight into my smartphone.

“Fuck you!”

And I wasn’t talking to the Almighty, the Fates, the weather gods or any other such supernatural being.

I was shrieking at a car service dispatcher who just told me that there would be no car to pick me up on this horrific night—even though I had reserved a vehicle the day before to take me and my luggage the hell home.

This was a fitting climax to my three-day business trip to Philadelphia. Nothing seemed to go right during this conference. I was bouncing in a dozen different directions, I was making bonehead mistakes and I was so worried about something going wrong that I focused almost exclusively on surviving rather than excelling.

I hit the panic button too goddamn much, choosing to freak out as a first resort—as opposed to carefully analyzing the situation, attempting to come up with a logical resolution, and then freaking out.

I even forgot to pack socks—socks, for Christ’s sake! Who in the holy flying fuck forgets to bring socks on business trip? Luckily the Pennsylvania Convention Center had a gift shop that happened to sell socks, among other things, so that was one less screw-up to worry about.

I didn’t get a chance to see any of the sites or meet up with my awesome Philly friend, Ron. I barely had time to look up from my laptop.

Now to be fair, these conferences can be stressful, but I also did a lot of dumb stuff, real rookie errors, and as the bloopers piled up, I became more and more frustrated and, of course, I allowed the anger took over.

Even the weather went to straight to Hell, as sunny skies soon gave away to a storm system that seemed determined to outdo Noah’s 40 days and 40 nights schtick. By the time the conference was over, I staggered to the train station and prayed for a quiet trip back to Brooklyn.

Wheels in Motion

And then I called for my car.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from this fat schmuck. Of course, I don’t know if this dispatcher is fat, having never seen him, but I imagine him as bloated and unshaven, stuffed into a stained wife beater with a rancid toothpick shoved between yellowed, rotting teeth, and clouds of flies buzzing around him.

I know this is childish but I can’t help it.

After detonating the F-bomb, I called another neighborhood car service and learned they had a driver near Penn Station, who picked me up and got me home. I sent a nasty email to Fat Fuck Charley at the first outfit and filed a complaint with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.


On Saturday I got my new favorite car service to take me and my old computer to the Apple Store in the World Trade Center so I could get out the old files and put them into a new machine.

There was a breakdown in communications, however, because upon my arrival I was told the Apple geniuses couldn’t retrieve information from a busted computer—which makes no sense to me whatsoever, seeing as how if my computer wasn’t busted I wouldn’t be buying a new one, would I?

I then had to lug this 27-inch corpse on to the R train and take it up a few stops to the geeks at the Best Buy at Broadway and Houston.

I started having a conniption fit on the train—I can’t take it, I can’t take it—but then I recalled one of my first big stories when I covered the arrest of a man charged with murdering his wife.

That night was completely out of control and I almost had a nervous breakdown, but I got through it. And I was determined to get through this day, too.

So I bought a new Apple from Best Buy and I’m scheduled to pick it up on Monday. And when I bring it home, I won’t be calling Fat Fuck Charley for a ride.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Germs of Fear

I like to do this visualization exercise where I imagine a beam of pure light coming down straight from Heaven and going right into the top of my head.

The beautiful light clears away all the negative thoughts and emotions in my head, breaks the mental chains that are holding me back and allows me to look at the world with a fresh pair of eyes.

The light moves down to my nose, mouth and throat, where it sweeps away all the germs that may be lurking there, a perfect image for a hypochondriac like yours truly.

From there the light surges through my entire body, clearing away and fixing up all my various ailments both real and imagined. This routine may sound corny to some people, but I love it.

However, the other day I got silently tongue-tied when I thought to myself “the light clears away the fear germs.”

Fear germs? There’s no such thing, I told myself.

But now I’m starting to wonder about that. Fear can grip us like a terrible disease if we let it take over our minds. Pretty soon we’re talking ourselves out of all sorts of new possibilities, while talking ourselves into a lifetime of regret and busted dreams.

I’ve got a serious case of the heebie-jeebies right now as I prepare to take a business trip to Philadelphia in the morning.

Bulb in The Woods

I’m posting tonight because I’ve got to catch a train early tomorrow and I’m writing this on my company laptop because my Apple desktop croaked on me two days ago.

Can it really be seven years to since we went down to Prince Street on a snowy afternoon to pick up a shiny new computer and bring it home?

“Your computer is what we would call ‘vintage’,” the young woman from Apple told me Wednesday night. “There’s not much what we can do.”

Of course the timing sucked beyond belief, but then when is there a good time for your computer to kick the bucket?

I don’t have time to run down to the Apple store before I leave and I had to ask my saint of a sister to print out my train ticket so I get my keester down to the City of Brotherly Love. And I’m not anxious to shell out thousands of dollars for a new machine.


On top of that I fouled up the hotel reservation and had to scramble to get a place that’s more expensive and further away from the conference.

That is what I would call “bullshit.”

I’ve got the fear germs crawling all over me, digging into my soul and clinging to my mind--even though I’ve been to these conferences many times before.

A little bit of nerves is one thing, but I’m feeling so antsy right now I could ruin a dozen picnics.

All right, I think we need to throw a little light on the situation. And by a little light, I mean a lot, a gleaming, glorious shaft of sacred light that streaks down from Paradise and penetrates this thick skull of mine.

This spectacular beam is going to burn up those little fear germs like the hideous vermin they are. No moping about the past, no trembling at the future. I’m going to do my job.

All right, then. Let’s light it up.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Listening to God Smile

Every morning when I meditate I start off with a little message to myself.

Open all the pores of your skin, I say, borrowing a line from a qigong DVD I bought years ago, and listen to God smile.

That last bit is my own creation—the DVD says “Listen to a sound from far away”—and while I’m not sure what it means, I do like the sound of it.

Meditation involves listening to silence so you can quiet your mind, step outside of your problems and worries, and, ideally, become a better person.

It’s Easter Sunday and I made sure to meditate on this most blessed morning.

This is a time of rebirth and renewal, where we look forward with hope and let go of the grief behind us. I know these are big words and I say them every year, but I’m just a sucker for a happy message.

I must confess that I didn’t make the most of Lent this year. I didn’t get my ashes on Ash Wednesday; I ate meat on nearly every Friday of the season, and let Palm Sunday blow by like it was somebody else’s religion.

I felt particularly disappointed last week when I saw an elderly woman walking slowly down Bay Ridge Avenue, a cane in one hand and a palm in the other. If she could make it to church why couldn't I?

I don’t feel guilty, as this is a most useless and destructive emotion. I just feel like I’ve missed out on something special.

I did avoid meat on Good Friday and after work I did some shopping, making sure to stop at the old Lincoln Savings Bank (now a Chase branch) to pause at the place where my mother’s desk once stood and wish her a Happy Easter.

The Resurrection, and The Life

Then it was on to Our Lady of Angels Church, where I sat in the pew for a while, reciting the Rosary and giving thanks for all the good things in my life.

I thought of my parents walking up the aisle of this church back in 1950 on the day they were married.

I recalled my Catholic education at the adjoining grammar school and felt the old anger and resentment stirring up before I politely asked them to depart.


A small group of people was gathering behind me and, checking the bulletin, I saw that it was almost time the Procesión del Via Crucis—the Stations of the Cross.

It’s hard to believe my church is now having Spanish language services.

We never thought that would’ve been possible back in the Sixties when I grew up, when Bay Ridge was almost completely Christian and caucasion.

Spanish mass? That’s for Our Lady of Perpetual Help down in Sunset Park. It's English only here.

I regret now that I left before the service started. I haven’t been to mass or confession for a few weeks (months?) and I haven’t sat in for the Stations of the Cross in years.

The language difference is immaterial and I think perhaps I would’ve gotten something out of the Spanish service.

Today I had dinner with my family, where there was much love and plenty of opportunities to hear God smile.


Sunday, April 09, 2017

Death of Smile

Several years ago one of my coworkers was showing me some headshots he had taken for the company ID card.

He was smiling broadly in the first shot, but the grin slowly slipped from his face over the course of the next three pictures.

“Death of a smile,” I said, looking over the images.

That phrase came back to me this week when I saw that Turner Classic Movies was showing back-to-back Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Woody Allen’s Sleeper, two of my all-time favorite comedies.

Or at least they used to be.

I’ve seen both these films again in the last year for the first time in decades and I had the same surprising, and rather sobering reaction to both of them.

While I had laughed uproariously at these two movies the first time I saw, I could barely crack a smile during the most recent viewings.

The scenes that I had found hilarious back in the Seventies now seemed hackneyed and stale.

Young Frankenstein mercilessly mocked the old Universal horror movies, right down a dart game that Frankenstein plays with a one-armed police chief.

When I saw the movie in the theater—was that the Quad Cinema?—I couldn’t stop laughing at that particular scene.

I loved Sleeper, too, a science fiction parody that is listed on "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

I argued with my parents who had also seen the movie and weren’t in the least bit impressed.

At the time I thought it was some kind of generational divide where my poor Mom and Dad just didn’t get Woody’s unique brand of comedy.

Now I feel exactly the same way they did. So I really am turning into my parents?

Hail, Hail, Freedonia...

I first noticed this phenomenon during the holidays a few years back when I watched the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup.

Now that’s a hysterically funny movie and I sat down in front of TV looking forward to enjoying the screwball comedy I had loved since I was a kid.

And…nothing. I don’t think I so much as grinned for the entire film. Even the famous mirror scene with Grouch and Harpo left me cold.

“I didn’t think it was at all funny,” I told my auntie the next day.

“That’s what usually happens, dear,” she said.

What the hell going on here? I always thought I had a good sense of humor. So why was I looking blankly at my widescreen like it was a tombstone?

Part of the problem is that, yes, I am older, and my tastes have changed.

Also, I’m watching these films at home and not in a theater full of people, so maybe the human factor is at play here. Maybe, but it’s not the deciding factor.

I tuned into TCM a few weeks back to watch The Ruling Class, a bizarre comedy featuring Peter O’Toole as a member of the House of Lords who thinks he’s Jesus Christ.

When I saw it in the old Elgin Cinema in 1973, I thought it was brilliant. Please, I silently begged my TV, stay that way for me. Be the same outrageous, shocking satire that I so fondly recall from my high school years.

But, once again, I watched this film as silently as a Trappist monk at Sunday dinner.

The movie was terribly dated and the few points it had to make—like the rich get away with everything, including murder—were delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer blow right between the eyes.

To borrow a phrase from my auntie, “it was like hanging by the thumbs.”

Maybe I’ll take a break from comedies for a while and focus on heavy dramas. There’s nothing like somebody else’s misery to bring my smile back to life.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Walk Through the Storm

It was a dark and stormy night—seriously.

A rabid storm system barged its way into Brooklyn on Friday and the rain was so nasty I started humming that godawful song from Titanic.

I was in the middle of my Friday ritual, where I order up a vat of wonton soup and a small mountain of fortune cookies from the Hot Wok, my local Chinese place, and park my rear end in front of the TV for a night of Netflix and "Law & Order" reruns.

Exciting, no?

Well, actually it did get a little suspenseful as the wind roared so loudly that at one point that I hit the mute button just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. It was only the wind, all right, but that was enough.

This was one of those nights where you thank God you’ve got a roof over your head.

The rain kept on going and my mind floated back to another brutal storm and even though this one happened in the middle of the day it was one of the blackest times of my life.

It was a cold day in November and my father was starting to show the first signs of dementia.

I was living in the house with him at the time and, to be honest, I was in denial about his condition. I couldn’t allow myself to believe that my dad, who was always the leader of our family, was losing control of his faculties.

He had been a salesman for a wholesale meat company for most of his working life and he used to drive all over Brooklyn to take orders from his customers.

But he had retired years earlier so I was a little surprised when I saw him putting his coat on and preparing to head out into the middle of the pounding rain.

Hold Your Head Up High

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I have to see some customers.”

Customers? It didn’t make any sense. His customers were either dead or retired by then.

I didn’t know what he was talking about—or, more accurately, I didn’t want to admit what was happening-so I just stood there and watched my dad walk out the door.

I couldn’t physically restrain my own father, but I feel so stupid now looking back on that day and my staunch refusal to see the terrible truth.

Maybe it was too hard for me to accept that my father’s mind was slipping away.

He came back a short time later, battered by the wind and rain. I pointed to a small plastic bag he was clutching.

“What’s in there?”

“Order forms,” he said.

I looked in the bag and saw nothing but blank sheets of paper. He apparently thought he was carrying the order forms he used to fill out when he was still working.

It was frightening and quite upsetting to see him like this.

I helped him dry off and put the sheets of paper away. A short time later my sister said we would need to hire someone to stay with him at all times and even then I had my doubts.

The storms got worse around our house as time went by and our father drifted farther and farther away from us, until he couldn’t recall my name and would casually ask for my mother even though she had died years earlier.

It was a dark memory suitable for a dark and stormy night. I try to think about the good times we had with our father before dementia took him from us. And my heart breaks for other families who suffer through this nightmare.

It was bitterly cold and cloudy on Saturday, and I had to wrap myself up in that damn parka of mine, but today the temperature climbed, the sun was shining brilliantly, and ugly memories were retreating back to the gloom where they belonged.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Amazing Ava

A generation ago, The Lovin’ Spoonful asked the musical question “Do you believe in magic?” and as of Saturday my answer is a resounding “yes!”

The cause of the conversion was a pair of lovely run-ins I had with two adorable children as I walked home from the gym.

The first meeting occurred on Fifth Avenue as I approached a local nail salon. A woman, presumably the owner or an employee, was standing outside with this beautiful little boy.

As I got closer to the store the little guy broke away from his mother and came charging up to me with a flyer in his hand.

“Is that for me, buddy?” I asked as took the sheet of paper from his hand. “Why, thank you so much!”

I don’t think I’ll be frequenting the place, but I just loved how determined that boy was to help his mom. But it turned out that this young fellow was just the opening act of my exciting morning.

I was just a half block from my home when I passed a house on 72nd Street where a young couple and their little girl were outside enjoying Saturday’s warm weather. I nodded, smiled, and kept going--but not for long.

“Sir?”

The father was calling me and I turned around.

“Yes?”

“Would you like to see some magic tricks?”

I can never get enough magic in my life, so I readily agreed. It seems their daughter, who was about 7 years old, had a little table set up with a child’s magic kit.

She was a little shy but I gently encouraged her to do her routine, and pretty soon she was waving her magic wand, intoning “abracadabra”, and making coins, cards, and other objects disappear and reappear.

It'll Free Your Soul

I made sure to be properly astounded, applauding loudly with each trick and even helped out when her wand slipped to the ground.

“Be careful or you’ll get in trouble with Harry Potter,” I said.

The budding Kreskin quickly retrieved her baton and brought the show to a rousing finale.

“What’s your name, dear?” I asked, as I handed her a couple of bucks.

“Ava,” she said.

“Well, now you’re the Amazing Ava,” I told her. “You need a cape and some more magic words and you’ll be a star.”

I thanked Ava’s parents and wished them all a great day.

As I walked the last half-block to my house I noticed my mind was quickly returning to its regularly scheduled bullshit—worry, regrets, daydreams, and other assorted mental flotsam—and I hit the brakes.

Wait a damn minute, I thought. You just had a lovely experience a few minutes ago. Why don’t you savor that nice time for a little longer before jumping overboard?

So I abracadabraed myself right back to that sweet encounter. Yeah, I thought, that was a good thing.

I’ve been retraining my brain to find the good things in life instead of choosing to roil in grief. I was lucky to have been passing that house at that particular time and I am very grateful for that.

I regret now that I had taken her picture, but too often we’re so busy photographing an event that we remove ourselves from the actual proceedings.

I was having too much fun to go fiddling with the my phone and her dad was taking plenty of photos anyway. Believe me, I’m not about to forget the Amazing Ava and her bag of tricks anytime soon.

My sister pointed out that it was good that Ava was outside meeting people and doing something creative—as opposed to burying her nose in a smartphone.

And that’s the best kind of magic there is.