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.