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.

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.