Sunday, August 19, 2018

52 Minutes

Okay, I probably could’ve handled that a little better.

Last week I got the bill for the double knee surgery I had back in December and since I had switched insurance companies in the interim, I figured I should touch base with the old outfit to see what was going on.

The price tag is sizeable to say the least and I wanted to know what was going on before bill collecting commandos kicked my door its hinges.

So, I called my old insurance company and what followed was a nearly hour-long waking nightmare that would’ve scared the screaming Jesus out of Rod Serling himself.

The experience left me shaken, exhausted, barely able to speak, and perilously close to insanity.

And I’m not exaggerating about the time: my cell phone clearly showed that 52 holy-shit-on-a-shingle minutes had burned up during the course of this telephonic fiasco.

This was the same week I reconnected on Facebook with a novelty song from 1966 called “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” which turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for this horrible experience.

I knew I’d be bounced around a little bit at the outset and, sure enough, the first lady I spoke with once I got through the robo-voice said she had to switch me to another department—and promptly hung up me.

I angrily hit the redial button and then the torture began in earnest. I was shuffled, shoved and shunted from one incompetent imbecile to another.

At one point the horror show veered off into Stephen King country when one of these losers apparently had her headphones switched off.

“Is anyone there?” she asked repeatedly.

“I’m here!” I shrieked at my smartphone. “I’m here!

I couldn’t bear the thought of being cut off again, of having to redo the whole hideous process, and I wailed into my palm like a champion hog caller.

Where Life is Beautiful All the Time

Finally, this genius got her phone to work and promptly told me to stop shouting.

Ah, but the shouting was just beginning. This woman had mastered neither her job nor the English language and after a few minutes I started to wonder if waterboarding could be all that bad.

Now I’m not some xenophobic knuckle-dragger with a slobbering hatred for foreigners. These people were hired because corporations want to save money by not hiring American workers—savings, by the way, that we consumers never see.

But if you are going to take the road to Bali with your customer service department, the least you could do is staff it with people who can speak and understand English.

“I can’t understand you,” I told this woman. “Please put your supervisor on the phone.”

I was convinced she was going to hang up on me, but moments later a man—an American man—picked up the phone and proceeded to help me out.

He was courteous, helpful, and knowledgeable—the exact opposite of everyone else I had spoken with that day.

I was relieved, but also angry. Where the hell had he been for the last 50-odd minutes? It seems like they kept him in a glass case and broke it open only when lunatics like me called up and lost their shit.

I felt like some medieval invader fighting my way into a castle only to learn that the dude standing next to me had the key to the front door the whole time. Gadzooks and go fuck yourself, my liege.

But the biggest problem here was yours truly. Once again, I let the anger and rage take over; once again I wasted my time, energy, and health trying to berserk my way through a problem that required patience and intelligence.

I keep saying I’m going to change my evil ways and yet here I am writing another post about my latest implosion.

Of course, many alcoholics and addicts slide back into their destructive behavior and they do what they can to get back on solid ground. I’m going to treat this like a temporary setback and resume my anger management routines.

I have to do something constructive or one of these days someone will be coming to take me away.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Flying High

You think I would’ve learned my lesson with John Ford.

Several years ago, I rented "How Green Was My Valley" from Netflix because I thought it was time I finally caught up with Ford’s 1941 classic about a family of Welsh miners in the early 20th Century.

I had seen so much of Ford’s work that it seemed wrong to have this one slip by for so long.

But I confess that I wasn’t feeling terribly excited. Yes, it was supposed to be a great movie, but I thought it might be stuffy and dated. And what the hell did I know from Welsh coal miners anyway?

I was responding to this film with all the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist.

Well, when I finally sat down to watch the thing, I was sobbing so hard that I was nearly dehydrated by the time the credits rolled. The setting may have nothing to do with my life, but the characters and the emotions grabbed hold of me like few films ever have in my life.

I strongly suspect this is the reason why it’s called a classic.

Now I’ve had a Russian film called “The Cranes are Flying” on my Netflix hit list for ages.

Again, I had heard great things about it, but I thought it might be dreary and depressing and I allowed myself to get sidelined by the latest hot movie or TV series, while the cranes kept flying further south down the list.

Finally, I decided I needed to watch something with some gray matter. I had been burned too many times by positively-reviewed action crapfests that offered nothing beyond mindless violence and deafening special effects.

The people responsible for these atrocities weren’t even trying to make sense. They were just throwing junk on the screen and hoping audiences lapped it up.

Hidden Tears

Enough, already, I declared, let me sink my eyeballs into a real film. So, I moved Mikhail Kalatozov’s World War II saga up to the Number One spot and five minutes in, I knew I had struck gold.

Made in 1957—the year I was born—“The Cranes Are Flying” tells the story of Veronika and Boris, a pair of young Russian lovers whose lives are torn apart by Germany’s surprise invasion in 1941.

Kalatozov is a visual genius, composing beautiful deep-focus shots that take us right into the story.

“The Cranes Are Flying” is among the “"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," and it’s also a favorite of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola—and it’s easy to see why.

Be warned there are no superheroes, wookies, droids, or CGI. There is only a powerful story told with bold, unforgettable images.

According to, the film caused quite a stir in the Soviet Union because of its depiction of such issues as draft dodging and war profiteering—a sharp contrast to the propaganda bilge that people had been accustomed to watching.

“The Cranes Are Flying” has also renewed my interest in making my own film. I’ve running my yap since the Middle Ages about how I want to make my own film.

Perhaps this experience will be what I need to get me up off my ass and out into the world.

And I’m also wondering what other classics I’ve got buried on my Netflix list.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

One Summer Night

Saturday night went so well even the R train cooperated.

Residents of Bay Ridge and the surrounding areas know all too well the misery associated with the Broadway local that chugs through our fair neighborhood…whenever the hell it feels like it, apparently.

In fact, the R train and its express associate, the N train, are often referred to as the Rarely and the Never ‘round the parts.

But last night the little engine that wouldn’t came through big time to put the finishing touch on an awesome save as I abruptly flipped the bird to the comfort zone.

Now my weekend started off nicely on Friday when I met two of my writing class buddies in Park Slope for an evening of food, drink, and yakking. We had talked about meeting up and, following the advice of sister and auntie, I took the lead in making the thing happen.

Saturday’s weather report had initially called for rain most of the day, so I decided to skip making any serious plans to focus on a slew of household chores that I have been putting off since the Johnson Administration.

But in turns out you really don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows—or when the rain falls, because after a heavy morning storm, the clouds took a hike, the sun came out and the temperature rose.

And I was all lit up with no place to go.

What followed was a rather depressing exercise in denial. A Brooklyn filmmaking group was having an event in a bar in Williamsburg, but I managed to talk myself out of going because it’s a pain to get there, I didn’t want to come home late on the subway, and I don’t know the people running the thing, and blah, blah, bullshit.

My next tactic was to get dinner and watch an old movie I had recorded a while ago but suddenly just had to watch right now. Naturally by the time that was done, it was too damn late to go to Williamsburg.

Under the Moon of Love

Step three was self-abuse. I proceeded to berate myself for being a procrastinator and a hopeless loser who’ll never change. This tactic is particularly insidious because it gives the illusion of motivation, but actually uses self-loathing to dig myself even deeper into a hole.

Finally, I pretty much evicted myself from my own home. I was not going to sit in front of the TV on a fabulous summer night—that’s what February is for.

The Brooklyn Museum has a First Saturday event every month and while I didn’t want to go, I pointed my butt to the subway and rode downtown—whining and complaining the whole way about the trains and the noise and the freaks hanging around me.

I kept on bellyaching as I got off at the museum stop and walked up the subway stairs.

And then I saw people—living, breathing people, not images on a TV screen—laughing, singing, and hanging out. The museum had a Caribbean theme and they had a steel drum band with people walking around in all kinds of wild costumes.

I had a nice chat with a cigar-smoking lady near the museum entrance, but other than that I didn’t interact with people all that much. And I was fine with that.

I was amongst humans and that was good, as opposed to being sequestered in my living room in front of the widescreen.

I was alone, I suppose, but I wasn’t isolated, and the distinction is important. Sometimes it good to be alone so you can think, make plans, and assess your life. Isolation, however, is a grotesque greenhouse for all sorts of poisonous thinking.

I stuck around for a couple of hours and then skipped on home. I braced myself for a long wait at Pacific Street for the local ride back home, but I had barely touched down on the platform when the R train came rolling down the tracks as if I had called ahead for a reservation.

On one level, very little happened. I took a train ride to one place, milled about for a while, and then turned around. But there was a lot more going on beneath the surface. I had broken free of the ruthless tentacles of despair, routine, and self-pity to rub elbows with reality.

More of this kind of action is needed. Summer is burning away, and I don’t want to be locked away in February wishing I had gone out more.

Let’s just hope the R train gets the message.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Separate Paths

And so it all ends with the click of a mouse.

I’ve unfriended people on Facebook many times in the past.

It usually happens when some twit I’ve never met in the real world says something monumentally stupid or incredibly rude and I ask myself “why in the four-alarm freaking hell am I keeping this asshole in my life?”

Then I press the button and make them disappear. It can be a very satisfying experience.

There are few things more fruitless than a Facebook pissing contest and, having weathered more than a few of these online fiascos, I am looking to find better things to do with my time.

But my most recent unfriending was quite different from the usual routine. And much more painful.

This person was a former best friend of mine who cut himself out of my life for reasons I still haven’t quite figured out.

We met about 20 years ago at a job in Manhattan and we just hit it off. My friend--I’ll call him Phil--was a great guy with a fabulous sense of humor. We started hanging out and the friendship continued—and blossomed—after I left that horrible place.

Most weekends, Phil and I would do something together—take in a movie, have a dinner, or go to a party. Unlike me, he knew a lot of people and I had some terrific times with him.

He was there when my mom got sick and came to the wake after we lost her. And it was the same when my dad became ill and died.

Then about six years ago it all went bad.

We didn’t have any big blowout or stupid argument. I almost wish we had because often you can repair that damage. In this case, however, Phil just slowly pushed himself away from me.

I believe it went south one night when he called me after some heavy drinking and told me about a personal problem.

Out of respect for our former friendship I’ll keep that part to myself, but I did everything I could to help Phil. I gave him advice and let him know I was on his side. I didn’t judge him or mock him; I just did my best to support him.

Then a short time later Phil stopped calling me. I left him messages and they were never returned. I can’t be certain, since he won’t talk to me, but I believe in my heart that he was embarrassed for having confided in me and when he sobered up he decided to wash his hands of me.

And Never Brought to Mind

I suppose there could be other reasons, but Phil was never one to hold back his opinions. Whenever I pissed him off in the past he made sure to let me know it. His sudden silence in this instance is quite unlike him—and quite telling.

I dropped the ball here, too. I could’ve confronted him, demanded to know why he had stopped talking to me. But that seemed so desperate and childish. If the guy doesn’t want to be my friend, I can’t force him. But perhaps I would have an answer, something I don't have now.

Facebook only made things worse. I’d see photos of him having a great time with people I didn’t recognize. He made a film—something I’ve been blathering about doing for decades—and I felt like I should be there with him.

And there was so many times both good and bad that I wanted him to be with me, from the publishing of my book to that horrible accident in December. Phil should’ve been there for those events and so many more.

I wrestled with unfriending him several times over the years. It seemed so petty—I’ll show you, I’ll click you out of my life and say nasty things about you behind your back.

But to be honest, I think I also kept him on Facebook in the pathetic—and apparently vain—hope that we could be friends again.

Finally, I found myself grieving over our comatose friendship pretty seriously last week and the Facebook connection felt like a sick joke. I had to call time of death on this thing.

I’ve lost friends before. People move, get married, have kids—there are any number of natural reasons to grow apart from someone, but there was absolutely nothing natural about this break-up.

It never should’ve happened.

I hesitated briefly before hitting the unfriend button and after I did it, I jumped over to LinkedIn and severed the professional relationship as well. Might as well cut all remaining ties.

It hurts, to be honest; it hurts like a bastard, because I really loved this guy. We were together for nearly 10 years and to have all of that wiped away for no logical reason that—at least that I can think of—is just fucking wrong.

I have to move on, though, as Phil obviously has. I want to thank him for all those good times we had and I wish him well.

But I really wish we were still friends.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Say the Secret Word

Mary Klinge didn’t waste any time.

“I know your password,” she told me in recent email. “More to the point, I know your secret and I have evidence of this.”

Ms.Klinge, which I suspect is a fake name, caught me flatfooted by mentioning one of my old passwords. I’ve been the victim of identity theft so this opening line was a bit disturbing.

Things got even creepier as Mary went on to explain that she had setup “a malware on the adult video clips (porno) and you visited this web site to experience fun (you know what I mean).”

No, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t go look at adult video clips (porno) so maybe Mary means somebody else. Then she said she had set a webcam in my computer and gathered all my contacts. Now that’s just mean.

She wrote that she put in much more time than she should have investigating “into your life and created a two-screen video.”

“The 1st part shows the video you had been viewing and 2nd part displays the recording from your cam (it’s you doing nasty things).”

Really? What sort of nasty things? I cleaned the toilet yesterday and that was all sorts of nasty, but I think I’ll skip the video.

“Honestly,” Mary told me. “I'm ready to forget everything about you and allow you to continue with your regular life. And my goal is to offer you two options that can accomplish this. These two choices to either ignore this letter, or perhaps pay me $3600.”

If I ignored the email, Mary said she “definitely will send out your video to all your contacts including family members, colleagues, etc. It doesn't shield you from the humiliation yourself will face when family and friends uncover your sordid videos from me.”

I See You

Well, myself certainly doesn’t want to face humiliation from my friends and family. And myself is really appalled by blackmailer’s abuse of the English language.

Like all blackmailers, Mary warned me not to go to the police.

“Let me tell you,” she told me, “I have taken steps in order that this mail cannot be tracked back to me also it won't stop the evidence from destroying your life.”

Mary assured me that she wasn’t seeking to break my bank; she just wanted compensation for the time she put into her invasion of my privacy. She urged me to make a Bitcoin payment for her “privacy fee,” which would guarantee that my secret would remain secret.

“I'll erase the recording immediately,” she wrote. “You continue on with your daily life as though nothing ever happened.”

Mary Klinge gave me two days to payments, warning that if I didn’t, she would “definately (sic) send out your video to your entire contacts including friends and family, co-workers, and so on. You better come up with an excuse for friends and family before they find out.”

I wasn’t aware of it at that time, but it seems that I was the target of an email scam called “sextortion,” and, according to the FBI, the perpetrator is usually an adult pretending to be a teenager and they target many victims at once.

Well, I definately didn’t send any Bitcoins to Mary and the deadline came and went with nothing happening, which is good because I hadn’t come up with an excuse for friends and family.

But if you do get a video of me doing nasty things, could you please send it to me? I could use a thrill.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Stray Cat Strut

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”—Groucho Marx

Okay, so what the hell is happening on 93rd Street?

Ever since I was liberated from my post-surgery leg braces, I’ve been walking about two miles nearly every day.

In the last few weeks I’ve been slowly getting back to the gym with 30-minute cardio workouts and some basic weight training exercises, but the long walks around my neighborhood in Bay Ridge are still a major part of my recovery.

On Saturdays I sometimes deviate from my usual route to cut over a few blocks to a local fruit and vegetable store to pick up my weekly supply of healthy stuff.

Now for the last two weeks I’ve been walking up Oliver Street off Shore Road and heading up 93rd Street.

And that’s where everything goes to hell—literally—because when I get to the block between Marine Avenue and Ridge Boulevard I keep running into black cats.

I know the old bit about black cat’s crossing your path is a ridiculous superstition, but being Irish and Italian it’s hard not to believe in magic—especially the bad kind.

And ever since I hit the deck back in December I’m even more prone to pay heed to omens, portents, premonitions, and a whole slew of spooky stuff that my logical side dismisses as horseshit, but which my pre-Christian DNA fearfully follows.

This latest lunacy started a few weeks ago when I was walking up 93rd Street and I ran into not one, but two—count ‘em, two—black cats on the same block. It was like they were having a lodge meeting, for Christ’s sake.

“Are you kidding me?” I silently implored the sky. “I don’t have enough misery with the double-knee surgery, you’re directing the very symbol of bad luck into my path?”

I was fervently praying that one evil omen would cancel out the other, but I’m not holding out much hope for that one.

And I had even calmed down enough to a point where I could laugh at the silliness of it all—until this past Saturday when I was walking up the very same street and ran into another black cat.

Apparently, his buddy had taken the weekend off, but one black cat is still one too many for me. By this time, I was so deranged that I actually followed the poor kitty up the street in a desperate bid to see if he was indeed noir to the bone.

“Buddy, lift your head,” I said to him, going full on Dr. Doolittle. “Please tell me you’ve got a spot of white under chin.”

The Devil’s on His Way

The stray feline obliged and I think—I hope—I saw a few strands of white fur amidst all that darkness, but I doubt it.

God knows what the poor cat was thinking, but I suspect it was something like “get the hell away from me with your stupid medieval beliefs, you bald-headed son-of-a-bitch.”

I later confessed my fears to my sister, a card-carrying cat lover, and she dismissed this dark age delusion.

“Where did this idea that black cats are bad luck start?” she asked.

I had absolutely no idea, so I did a quick jog around Wikipedia and I found that the folklore around black cats varies widely, with some cultures believing that they actually brought prosperity.

In Germany, some people thought it was a bad omen when a black cat crossed your path from right to left, while a left-to-right stroll is a sign of good times.

Pirates believed that you’d have bad luck if a black cat walked toward to you and good luck if they walked away from you. I guess it’s a good thing that cats can’t moonwalk.

Black cats were feared and hated by the Pilgrims—and we all know what a barrel of laughs they were.

And this is where superstition takes a very bad turn.

The Pilgrims thought black cats were familiars for witches and they’d punish or kill people who owned black cats and black cats themselves were slaughtered in great numbers because of this nonsense.

It doesn’t take much of a leap from murdering cats to burning people as witches, which is why Stevie Wonder warned us that when you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer—and so do a lot of other people.

The cats aren’t the problem, people are. They’d rather believe in some satanic fairy tale than accept responsibility for their own actions. Why admit you screwed up when you can blame your problems on some poor animal?

I think maybe it’s time I let go of these crazy notions.

And while I’m not going to go around breaking mirrors or walking under ladders, I’m willing to give black cats a break and acknowledge that these beautiful creatures been maligned for far too long.

Hell, maybe I’ll even celebrate Black Cat Appreciation Day on August 17.

But I’m also going to stop walking up 93rd Street.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Out of the Park

It all comes down to teamwork.

I’ve been working with this fabulous writing class for the last of couple of years now and today I joined my classmates for a reading of our various works in progress.

The class is coordinated by our teacher, the fabulous Rosemary Moore, and the reading was held at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The place has a history that dates back to the Dutch settlers and was a major site during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

Rosemary had asked us all for a short bio to read when she introduced us and I emailed her one of my favorites:

Rob Lenihan is a writer and journalist who was born in Brooklyn the same year the Dodgers left. He hopes the two events were not related."

I usually get some laughs on that one and today was no exception. And I needed all the humor I could muster because I was scared to Hell and back as my mind cranked out a whole host of disaster scenarios.

What if my piece was too long? What if it was too short? What if the damn thing just flat out sucked? What if I stammered, stuttered, or stumbled on my way to the podium? I had done several rehearsals during the week and I was making some bigtime bloopers.

Oh, Jesus sneeze us, how could I not screw up this thing up?

Who’s a Bum?

Well, I’m happy to report that the reading went very well if I say so myself. I read at a decent pace, got a nice round of applause, and some kind words during the post-reading food fest.

And I’m so grateful that my most awesome sister not only came out to support her baby brother, but she also drove us to and from the event.

I must say it was an honor sharing the stage with such talented people. Signing up for Rosemary’s class was one of the very best decision I’ve made in a long time and I thank God that these folks are my friends.

Rosemary is a gifted instructor who brings out the very best in all of our students. She starts each classing by encouraging us to “turn off your censor” and just write. And then she gives us prompts that we can work into our drafts—or we may not.

The funny thing is that my classmates and I often grumble about Rosemary’s assignments only to find that she’s provided us with a great opportunity to do some tremendous work.

I can’t believe the stuff that she has helped pull out my head. In fact, I’ve actually come up with an idea for novel solely through her classes.

And tonight I learned that the Old Stone House has another historical distinction. It turns that the place was also the original clubhouse of the baseball team that would eventually become the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So, I wasn’t alone on that podium today; I had a whole team of baseball legends backing me up.

Now the weekend is over and the Monday dreads are kicking in. I wish I could make a living at what I do in Rosemary’s class and work with these wonderful people on a fulltime basis.

Well, maybe someday. Right now, I’ve got to face the reality of another work week. I’m hoping the Dodgers are still in my corner.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

In the Crosshairs

Now we can add five more names to the list.

Last week’s mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis continues the apparently endless stream of gun violence that has gripped this terribly misguided nation.

I’ve worked at small newspapers, so this latest attack is particularly disturbing.

I think of the newsrooms in Pennsylvania and Connecticut where I used to ply my trade and see how easily it would’ve been for some gun-toting lunatic to walk in and start shooting.

Yes, the shooter had a personal beef with the newspaper, but we can’t ignore the fact that Trump—I refuse to call him president—has declared the press “the enemy of the people,” that he has repeatedly labeled any unflattering story as “fake news” and encouraged the crowds at his vanity hoedowns to jeer at reporters.

I’ve covered many seminars about corruption in the business world and one phrase that I’ve heard repeatedly was “tone at the top”—meaning how the behavior of a company's leaders can have a major influence on the actions of the rest of the staff.

If your C-suite people are being honest, your employees are likely to follow suit because of the example that management has set. Likewise, if the top executives are flipping the bird at the very notion of integrity, well, why should the underlings behave any differently?

The tone at the top of this country is vile.

We have a lying, thieving, and possibly traitorous megalomaniac occupying the White House, who surrounds himself with a mob of grifters and bootlickers.

We have Border Patrol officers taking children away from their parents, while that smirking Aryan chimp Jeff Sessions cites scripture to justify it—the very same passage that was used by Colonial Americans loyal to the Crown and slave owners who wanted to hold human beings in chains.

Conceived in Liberty

And we have an administration and congress hellbent on making the rich richer and corporations unaccountable.

I’ll never understand how middle class white people could ever sign off on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Do you seriously think these money-grubbers are going to share anything with you? They got rich by inheriting their millions from their daddies and keeping that money in the family.

The shake-up at the Supreme Court is the latest blow to the country I love. Trump will undoubtedly nominate some free market ideologue who will rubberstamp all the Republican talking points and make them the law of the land.

I keep thinking of the sequence in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey sees what his world would be like if he had never been born.

This includes learning that his beloved hometown of Bedford Falls has been turned into a vice-ridden rat’s nest called “Pottersville” after the diseased old man who owns just about everything.

George realizes his value and sees his town restored. But that’s only a movie.

Life is a little more complicated. Right now, this country is well on its way to becoming Trumpville as a diseased old man and his cronies do everything they can to make life easier for themselves and their rich buddies.

With each terrible incident, I hear people say “we’re better than this” but that’s not slowing down our moral decay. This well-funded minority is turning this country into an angry tribe of self-centered cretins who will believe anything as long it conforms to their own twisted world view.

Happy Fourth of July.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dog Show

I’ve seen a few dogs in the theater over the years, but the one I spotted recently really stands out.

This was the real thing--as in the four-legged kind--a little lap dog I had the pleasure of meeting on my birthday last month while attending a performance of Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

This little fellow—I think he was a fellow—was perched on the lap of a woman sitting in the audience and I spotted them as I was returning to my seat during intermission.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always feel comfortable talking to total strangers in the theater.

Perhaps it’s because of the live actors on the stage or the fact that we all share a love for this singular art form, but, whatever the reason, I can chat up people I’ve never met before in a way that I wouldn’t even think of doing in a multiplex.

So, when I saw this lady and her dog, I just had to stop and talk.

“Is that a comfort dog?” I asked.

“No,” the lady said in a distinct southern accent. “I’m allergic to kiwi and he reacts in case it’s in my food.”

The poor lady, who was named Mary, told me that she almost died twice when her throat closed up due to a reaction to kiwi. Clearly that little doggie has a big job.

“And what part of Brooklyn are you from?” I asked, unable to fight my smart-ass instincts.

Mary laughed and told me that she was a retired school teacher from Georgia who had decided to stop whistling Dixie, pull up stakes, and relocate to New York City.

Yes, this loony bin that so many retirees can’t wait to flee is this lady’s retirement destination—a kind concrete Boca Raton.

Quitting Time

“I don’t know too many people who actually retire to New York,” I said.

“If I had retired to southern Georgia like so many of other people,” Mary said, “my biggest decision would be where I’d be having dinner tonight. Here, there’s so much to do and so many things to see.”

She was right about that and I think Mary appreciated New York in a way that a lot of Big Apple natives don’t—including, at times, yours truly.

I’m slowly getting out into the world after my fall in December, but prior to that I know I spent far too many weekends sitting in front of the TV watching old movies.

The only good thing about the accident, if there is such a thing, was that it happened during the winter, so I didn’t feel like I was missing much. But now I’m sticking around the house even though the weather was warm.

There have been a few blips here and there. I went to the WWOW show a few weeks ago to enjoy the actors performing old timey radio programs. I hadn’t gone to one of these events in a while, and this performance was the last one of the season, so I’m glad I went.

Last weekend my sister and I went to a silent disco event on the 69th Street pier, which is a five-minute walk from my house.

I’ve been meaning to attend one of these things—where you get the music through headphones rather than through booming speakers—so this was a good chance to scratch it off my list.

It was kind of weird watching people get down in total silence and the headphones became uncomfortable after a while, but I did try it. The next day we all went the Public Theater to see Cypress Avenue, a very good, but very disturbing play.

And today I went to a friend’s birthday party in Park Slope and had way too much wine.

I gave Mary my card before going back my seat and told her that she was welcome to join me and my family on our theater excursions.

I haven’t heard for her, but I’m glad I made the offer and I’m very grateful that I met her.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Crossed Wires

Like all kids, I hated going to the doctor.

I feared being poked with needles, dreaded having that tongue depressor thing jammed down my throat, and absolutely hated wasting so much time in the waiting room when I could be outside raising all kinds of hell.

Now there was this one day fine spring day when I had to go the doctor to get a booster shot.

Today of course I know full well the importance of checkups, but back then I felt like I was walking the last mile.

My dad had been doing some home repairs that morning and he sent me around the corner to Windsor Lock, the neighborhood hardware store—back when we had neighborhood hardware stores—to get several items including lightbulbs and two short pieces of wire.

Off I went, relying on nothing but my memory of what my father had told me to complete the order. When I returned a short time later, I handed the bag over to my father—and he promptly went nuts.

He was so happy and so proud of me for getting every single thing he wanted without the benefit of a shopping list.

“You even got the two pieces of wire!” he said in cheerful disbelief.

Well, that’s it, I reasoned, they can’t possibly take me to the doctor now. I’ve done such a good job, made my father so happy. It’s time to go out and play.

But a short time later my dad was getting out the car keys and telling me it was time to go see Dr. Abrahamson.

What the hell? I just pulled off the retail miracle of the century, you can’t possibly drag me to that needle-wielding psychopath now. I earned a pass on pain.

In my childish mind I had decided that the doctor’s visit was punishment, so by doing a good job for my dad, I was automatically off the hook—quid pro no doctor. Clearly, however, I had a lot to learn about logic and how a job well done does not excuse you from taking care of your health.

I used to tell that story a lot and I’d always end up by describing how disappointed and betrayed I felt when parents hauled me off to the doctor.

Roll Up Your Sleeve

But now on Father’s Day I want to change the focus a little on this tale and concentrate on how happy I had made my dad that morning.

This didn’t happen too often, to be honest, or at least not as much as I would’ve liked. We butted heads a lot during his lifetime and I keep thinking I could’ve done more to make things better between us.

My father fought in World War II and I am only now appreciating how much that terrible experience must have affected him.

He was once trapped in a foxhole for days during an artillery attack and wound getting frostbite in both feet so badly that when help finally did arrive, he had to be carried away by a stretcher.

One of his buddies was a guide in Montana, and he, my dad, and two other soldiers had planned to go on a hunting trip together when they got back to the States—only the other guys were all killed in action and my father was the only one who came home.

How can anyone possibly walk away unscathed from something like that?

I get angry when people talk so casually about going to war, the ones who say “we” when they obviously mean somebody else has to do the fighting.

My father didn’t have any bone spurs, he didn’t have any “other priorities” and he sure as fuck didn’t prance around on an aircraft carrier crowing “mission accomplished.” No, he just fought for his country.

It’s a waste of time and energy, but I wonder sometimes what kind of man my father would’ve been if he hadn’t gone to war, if he hadn’t witnessed all the brutality.

He’s been gone with 11 years now, so we’ll never know. I guess the best I can do is recall the happy times.

The pain from the booster shot has long since faded, but I’ll never forget that smile I put on my father’s face when I brought home those two pieces of wire.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Though Your Heart is Aching

When it’s someone close to you, it’s always too soon.

I was in grammar school when I had my first dental appointment with Dr. Ronald Cohen.

I was terrified, convinced that I was going to suffer unspeakable torment as this stranger sadistically yanked all of the teeth out of my head.

When I completed all the various forms, I nervously handed them over to Mabel, Dr. Cohen’s nurse, and briefly thought about running out the door.

This was in early May and when Mable checked my birth date, she gave me a lovely smile.

“You’ve got a birthday coming up,” she said.

I was confused. The torturer’s assistant was being nice to me? Isn’t she supposed to laugh like a lunatic and shove me into the arms of the drill-wielding psycho?

It turns out that I may have overreacted a little bit. Mabel was a wonderful woman and when Dr. Cohen came out to greet me, I found him to be a kind, gentle man who only wanted to keep me healthy.

And he would be my family’s dentist for nearly 50 years.

Mabel died several years ago and then last week my sister told me that we lost Dr. Cohen, too. I turned 61 last month so obviously Dr. Cohen was not a young man, but he always seemed fit and healthy and he certainly wore his age well.

His widow told my sister that Dr. Cohen, who suffered from diabetes, was working up until the day before he died.

I was close to tears when I heard the news and I still can’t believe he’s gone. This is the end of an era as yet another person leaves our lives. I know that I’m at the stage of life where I’m constantly saying goodbye to family and friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

You Must Keep on Trying

I went through high school, college, and adulthood and for nearly every one of those years I made my annual visit to Dr. Cohen.

He was more than just a rinse-and-spit guy. He was committed to educating his patients about the importance of oral hygiene. Often during examinations, he would hand me a mirror and take me on a guided tour of my own chompers.

“He acts like they’re his teeth,” I once jokingly complained, “and you’re just borrowing them.”

He was constantly looking to improve himself, staying up to date on the latest developments and doing research in his spare time.

As I moved into adulthood, Dr. Cohen and I would talk about things beyond brushing after every meal. He once told me about how his grandfather back in Russia had been forced to join the army.

“They just grabbed him off the street and threw him into a car,” Dr. Cohen said. “His family had no idea what happened to him for six months.”

And yet despite that abrupt introduction to army life, the elder Cohen went on to be an exemplary soldier and actually considered making the military his career, but since he was Jewish he knew he would never become an officer, so he mustered out.

After I graduated from college, I considered going to Japan to teach English. When I mentioned this to Dr. Cohen about this, he told me about how he had climbed Mt. Fuji during a leave from his military service in Korea.

I didn’t get the job, but Dr. Cohen had seen to it that all my dental work had been taken care of just in case I had to leave the country.

I know we all have to leave this life eventually, but I guess I thought that Dr. Cohen would always be there for us. And while I’ll have to find a new dentist now, I can’t imagine anybody else putting me at my ease the way Dr. Cohen did.

I’m looking back at that terrified grade schooler I once was, and I have to say that in all those years Dr. Cohen never caused me any pain.

Until now.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Shore Leave

I’ve always believed that the Seventies was a bad time for music, but a great period for movies.

Now, to be honest, I do enjoy a handful of disco era hits, but I think even the most stalwart Studio 54 devotee would have to look back at that decade’s soundtrack and ask, “wow, what the hell were we thinking?”

And don’t even get me started on the clothes.

However, it’s important to note that while the clubs were busy thumping humanity into a stupor, Hollywood was igniting movie screens with such classics as Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Serpico, to name a few.

I recently caught up with Cinderella Liberty, another film from that era, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it great, it’s certainly damn good.

I saw this film with my parents in the old Fortway theater when I was a sophomore in high school. I hadn’t seen it or even thought about it since, but then Turner Classic Movies ran it a few months ago and it was sitting patiently in my DVR until I finally decided to give it a look last week. And I’m so glad I did.

Released in 1973 and starring James Caan and Marsha Mason, Cinderella Liberty tells the story of John Baggs, a lonely sailor, who falls for Maggie, a prostitute he meets in a bar, and becomes a father figure to Doug, Maggie’s mixed-race son.

Baggs is bureaucratically marooned in Seattle after the navy loses his records. Bear in mind, this was over 40 years ago, before computer files, so when I say “records” I mean real world paperwork stuffed into a manila folder.

Today it’s hard to believe now that we once functioned without computers, but, somehow, we did. Back then we thought we were living in the most modern of modern times, but looking back at that period now, it looks like we hammering our information on to stone tablets.

Anyway, without the records, Baggs is virtually nonexistent in the navy’s eyes, and he spends more time with Maggie and Doug. The supporting cast includes Eli Wallach, Dabney Coleman, Bruno Kirby, Allan Arbus, and Sally Kirland.

Hey, Sailor

The movie was directed by Mark Rydell and based on a novel by Darryl Poniscan, the author of, among other things, The Last Detail, which was another fine Seventies film about sailors that starred Jack Nicholson.

I liked this film because it took its time to tell a story about believable characters. There are no monsters, wookies, or superheroes and there are no explosions, slow motion machine gun battles, or ridiculous fight scenes.

It’s just the story of some very ordinary people who are down on their luck and trying to make a life for themselves. I seriously doubt that anyone would make this film today as it lacks all of the aforementioned blockbuster ingredients and offers no possibility of a movie franchise.

Now there are few lines of dialog I could’ve done without. Statements like “Why is it everybody else gets chicken and I always get the feathers?” and “Love is shit with sugar on it” could have been easily deleted from the script without any fear of being missed.

And the theme song is hands down horrible, a faux bluesy jingle called "You're So Nice to Be Around" that was sung by that musical oddity Paul Williams.

No offense to Mr. Williams or his fans, but the guy never did anything for me, and while this tune somehow earned an Oscar nomination—it must’ve been a lean year for music—the song is really nice to get away from.

The tune might have been bearable if it had been performed by an actual African-America blues singer instead of a painfully Caucasian counterfeit trying to sound black.

But the song and the subpar dialog pass quickly and you’re left with one fine film.

On May 25, 1977—the day after my birthday— Star Wars was released to theaters and arguably kicked off the whole science-fiction blockbuster chain reaction that we’re still living with (suffering through?) today.

Like disco hits, I enjoy the occasional fantasy film, but a steady diet of these things is kind of like listening to nothing by dance music. There's not enough sugar in the world to make the shit tasty.

When it comes to feeding my brain, I’d much rather feast on chicken than scarf down a plateful of feathers.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Dog Run

“So,” my niece, Victoria asked me Friday night, “how does it feel to hit the Big Seven-O?”

The question nailed me right between the eyes—just like everything else Victoria says it to me.

She was calling from Colorado to wish me a happy birthday, but being Victoria, of course, she had to wrap it around a brick and hurl it straight at my fragile ego.

“No,” I shouted into the phone. “I’m 61—I’ve got a few years to go!”

Victoria has this gift for getting on my nerves. She’s been doing it for years and I sometimes wonder if she was genetically hot-wired in some secret government laboratory just to bust my prunes.

Even she noted that our relationship has always had this backhanded quality to it.

“It’s the same way with torturers and their victims,” I replied.

But seriously, people, no birthday would be complete without a harassing phone call from Victoria.

In addition to this familial abuse, my most wonderful sister took me to dinner and then to a production of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in downtown Brooklyn.

And on Memorial Day I’ll be having dinner with my sister and auntie, so except for the shockingly high age number, this year’s birthday is shaping up very nicely.

I put an extra effort into keeping out the negativity out of my head for 24 hours, a tough, but worthy goal. I even refrained from posting hostile political messages on Facebook, which is nearly impossible for me.

My Ears Hear a Symphony

As part of my recovery from my nasty fall in December, I take a 40-block walk around the neighborhood most mornings to build up my battered knees.

I always see dog owners letting their pets roam around a field in Shore Road Park, but on Thursday I spotted this one four-legged fellow that I can’t get out my mind.

He was a black and white mutt and as he charged by me I saw he had a chew toy in his mouth. Periodically he would drop it, run away, and then turn to get down low and stalk the thing as if it were his prey—which it kind of was.

I got a kick out of watching this guy making things happen. He wasn’t waiting for his owner to throw the toy for him. He was taking care of everything himself. I think there’s a lesson in there for me.

As I watched this happy fellow bouncing around, I thought of a song by Bob Dylan—with whom I share a birthday—called “If Dogs Run Free.”

Up until last week it was my least favorite track from the 1970 New Morning album, an LP I loved so much when I was a teenager that I played it every single day for months.

I always skipped over that particular tune, though, because I didn’t enjoy the scat, jazzy beat poetry thing that Dylan was going for in this song.

It actually made Rolling Stone’s top ten worst Bob Dylan songs list, but that pooch in the park last week brought it all together for me.

"If dogs run free," the song asks, "then why not we, across the swooping plain?"

Dylan goes on to tell us to “just do your thing, you'll be king” and that true love “can cure the soul, it can make it whole.”

Words to ponder as I march toward the Big Seven-O.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Laurel and Yanny Go to Texas

There’s a scene in the 1919 French film J’accuse! where soldiers who have been killed in battle rise from the dead and begin marching on the living.

I’m not sure why I’m thinking about that film now.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we had yet another school shooting in America, this time in Texas, with the tragically familiar TV footage of parents, teachers, and children sobbing and hugging each other while SWAT teams storm the building.

Maybe it was something to do with a sobering Washington Post story that said more people have been killed in schools this year than have died serving in the military. Or at least it should be sobering to anyone who isn’t dry-humping a firearm.

Or maybe it has something to do with an interview of one of these weeping children in Texas, who when asked the idiotic question “was there a part of you that was like ‘this isn’t real, this would not happen in my school?’” bluntly replied, “No, there wasn’t.”

“It’s been happening everywhere,” she said. “I always kind of felt like it would happen here eventually, too.”

Naturally she and fellow students were promptly accused of being “crisis actors” by the Trump loving media because, hey, that’s what real patriots do, right?

This time the victims included a Pakistani exchange student who was scheduled to go home next month. Her heartbroken father told the Associated Press that he thought she would be safe in America, though God knows why anyone would think that after all these massacres.

Fire Fight

I think it was Tuesday morning when I was out for my morning walk and I thought, honest to God, “we haven’t had a mass-shooting in a while, have we?” And, lo and behold…

I feel like we’ve crossed a line with this latest shooting, that we’ve come to accept these man-made nightmares the way we tolerate heat waves, air quality alerts, and snowstorms.

It’s just something that happens.

I’m feeling a kind of battle fatigue as I see the latest photos of the smiling victims, listen to their grieving loved ones, and hear about the dreams that will never come true.

But then why worry about mass shootings when we have much more important matters to deal with like the great Yanny vs Laurel debate?

And there was the royal wedding, which is being billed as a fairy tale romance, though the real fairy tale is this pathetic belief that politicians actually give shit about our children, or that they’ll do anything to change the gun laws.

I’ve taken some hope from the students from Parkland, Florida, who rallied after their classmates were senselessly slaughter to challenge gutless politicians and gun-loving lunatics.

And a number of companies have severed ties with the NRA and investors are dumping gun manufacturer stocks. But I still feel the gun crowd is winning.

So, by all means, watch the royal wedding, argue over the dress, and debate if the cat is walking up or walking down the stairs. Maybe the only way things will change is if the shooting victims rise from their graves and march on Washington.

And here’s a newsflash for you: the voice isn’t saying Yanny or Laurel.

It’s saying “you’re fucked.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Please Be Seated

I came flying through the doors of P.S. 170 at the end of the day and ran straight toward my mother.

I had just created an incredible rendering of an apple tree in my kindergarten class and I couldn’t wait to show it to her.

I had drawn plenty of pictures, of course, but this time I had really outdone myself.

However, things didn’t go according to plan. As I was handing my work of art to my mother, an evil gust of wind blew the drawing out of my hands and right under a parked car.

Naturally I started crying and I’ll never forget how my mother bent down and tried to retrieve my drawing from underneath that damn car

We never did get that drawing back, but my mother was grateful beyond measure notwithstanding and did everything she could to console me.

I thought about that incident this morning, on Mother’s Day, and naturally I started crying all over again. She’s been gone nearly 16 years now, but that image of her desperately trying to find my drawing cut right through me.

I’ve been going some tough times recently, many of which are self-inflicted, and with them has come this crippling guilt as I tell myself what a lousy son I was.

Fred the Shrink has been advising me to talk to my mother—really talk to her as if she is actually here. I’ve been promising to do this for quite a while and I thought this would a good day to give it a try.

So, I sat at my kitchen table, looked at the empty chair across from me, and started talking. I told my mother how much I missed her, I told her how sorry I was for all the times I let her down, lost my temper, or broke her heart.

I mouthed off to her in ways I wouldn’t dare do with my father because I knew he’d put me through the nearest wall. And I apologized for my cowardice.

Give 'Em the Chair

Then I really started crying. My shoulders were heaving as I wailed and tore through a mound of tissues. I started thinking I had made a terrible mistake, that conjuring up my mother wasn’t allaying my pain; it was exacerbating it.

This is therapy? I thought. The next time I see Fred the Shrink I’m going to sock him so hard he won’t know Sigmund Freud from Ziggy Stardust.

Eventually I calmed down and I felt physically lighter from all that crying. There’s no such thing as a miracle cure, but, as painful as it was, I do feel I got something positive from this experience.

I often call up memories of my mother just to make myself sad.

There’s this dark side of my mind that feeds off negative emotions—anger, worry, resentment, fear, and grief.

Normally I hate it when people presume to speak on behalf of the dead, but I know my mother really wouldn’t want me spending my days feeling guilty and ashamed.

This evening I was washing the dishes, stealth-dreading the start of a new work week, and I started on the downward spiral about how I had made so many bad decisions, how I should’ve taken more risks, and somehow reached the demented conclusion that I was a terrible son.

This time, though, I refused to accept that hateful thought. It wasn’t even remotely true, and its only purpose was to pull me down even deeper. Not this time, buddy.

I’m not sure if I’ll do this chair experiment again, especially seeing as how it hurt so damn much. But I’m glad I tried it because reaching out to my mother helped look inside myself.

I may have lost that apple tree drawing, but I feel like I’m painting my masterpiece.

Sunday, May 06, 2018


Okay, so I’ve got the keys, I just have to figure out how to use them.

Last week I described a dream I had where I was trapped in a runaway car with my late parents that ended with me pulling the key out of the ignition and avoiding disaster.

I interpreted this dream as a message from my subconscious mind that I can take control of my life.

Well, apparently, I didn’t get my own message because while keys figured prominently in my life this week as well, it was no dream and I was definitely not in control.

It had been a rather stressful few days, and when I say “stressful” I mean I completely overreacted to any problem that cropped up and made them much worse than they really were.

Things got so bad that one night I came home from the store and found I had locked myself out of my apartment.

Please note that I didn’t forget my keys. I had them right in my hand and I went through every single key on the ring. But none of them worked.

This was impossible, unless, of course, malevolent elves had snuck into my apartment during the night and swapped my regular keys for an ersatz set. This seemed highly unlikely as I don’t tend to interact with elves, malevolent or otherwise, during my normal course of business.

I’ve lived in this apartment for five years now and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve locked and unlocked this door I could use the Hearst Mansion for a toolshed.

And yet I couldn’t get in. I tried each key again, slower this time, while my breath grew short and my head started to expand. Still nothing.

I could feel the panic rising up through me. I had to get in there. I had work to do, I had to catch up my DVR recordings, do some reading, and, oh, yeah, have my dinner and go to bed.

Key Lame

I had Chinese food the other night and one of my fortunes read “constant grinding can turn a steel bar into a needle.” At the rate I was going I could’ve turned the Golden Gate Bridge into a toothpick.

Still, I had enough sanity left to know that I couldn’t force the key to work. Years ago, I was having trouble getting into the garage at my family’s house.

I had to get my car, I was running late for work and I got so angry and impatient that I twisted the key as hard as I could—and promptly snapped the key in the lock.

I eventually had to call a locksmith who charged me almost 90 bucks for a five-minute job. And I was really late for work.

Standing on the landing of my apartment, I was determined not to repeat that fiasco.

I finally walked down one flight to my landlady’s apartment and asked to borrow her spare key.

Naturally it worked on the first try and now, with the pressure off, I found the right key on my ring and it worked perfectly.

So, what happened here? I flipped out so seriously that I rendered myself incapable of performing a routine action.

It’s particularly disheartening since I really believe I’ve been making some progress in managing stress.

My darker nature also worries that this could a warning sign of more serious problems as I feel like I’ve been more forgetful lately. A talk with a specialist wouldn’t hurt.

In analyzing this fiasco, I can see how I often conflate all of my problems into one hideous monster.

I had a number of setbacks during the day, but instead of reacting to them individually I created my own private Godzilla.

So, I’ll be more attentive to the warning signs. I’ll apply the various stress-relief techniques that I keep in my emotional toolbox. And I’ll label my goddam keys so I don’t have to run through each one of them until I find the winner.

Okay, we’ve got that settled. Now give me another cookie.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dream Machine

I sat in the back seat of my parent’s car while we raced down a dark country road.

My mother and father, long since gone from this world, were sitting up front as we drove through an incredibly dark forest.

This was a dream, of course, and it was about to turn into a nightmare.

I haven’t dreamt about either one of my parents for a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt about them together.

I used to travel a lot with my parents when I was younger, so the image of me sitting in the back seat of their car is definitely rooted in reality.

During this dream ride, the only thing I could see was the twisting road ahead dimly illuminated by the headlight’s beams.

I don’t know where the hell we were, but wherever it was, I could sense that it was cold, remote, and dangerous.

And it got a lot more dangerous when my father keeled over behind the wheel.

I could see his head rolling from side to side as the car started flying all over the road and I heard my mother screaming—and I’m sure I was doing a fair bit of screeching myself.

Now this is the point where most of my nightmares end: something horrible is about to happen and then I wake up yelling and waving my arms in the dark at all sorts of imaginary ghosts and ghouls.

But this the dream kept going—and so did the car, faster and faster. Finally, I leaned over my father’s shoulder, pulled the key out of the ignition, and the car came to a stop.

And then I woke up.

So how to interpret this? Well, there’s certainly the fear of losing control and taking the ignition key suggests that I was taking hold of my life and breaking free of my childhood.

Situation Well in Hand

Hell, I’m 60 years old so maybe this is a good time to finally say adios to all that kid stuff.

“You saved the day,” Fred the Shrink told me when I shared the dream with him. “Be happy with that.”

Oh, I’m very happy with that. I’m going through some difficulties right now and I’m a bit nervous about the future. If nothing else, this dream may be a pep talk from my subconscious that I can save myself should my life spin out of control.

My father was a World War II veteran and whenever I was upset or worried about something he would remind me of his army division’s motto: Fortior Ex Asperis, which means “stronger through adversity.”

It’s a shame that I’m only starting to appreciate much of the advice my parents gave me now that they’re gone.

But then I’m sure wanted their encouraging words to live on after them. It just sucks that I can’t thank them for all they’ve done for me.

This army motto is particularly meaningful in light of my accident and surgery.

The recovery continues and this week I’ve been walking about two miles every morning to build up my legs.

I’m not going to set any speed records, but this is a vast improvement over using a walker or trying to move with those awful leg braces.

On Thursday I ran into a friend from the neighborhood whom I hadn’t seen in months. She was walking her dog on Shore Road and I told her about my accident. Well, it turned out that she was on the disabled list, too, after falling down in February and breaking her wrist.

She went through the surgery and rehab routine, too, and she’s just getting back to the world. And to top it off my auntie is in the hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery.

There are a lot of damaged people out there and they’re heading down some rough roads. But if we can grab those ignition keys, then we can end up being stronger through adversity.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring Awakening

“Where have you been?”

It’s a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately as I slowly make my return to civilization.

This latest inquiry happened on Saturday as I was walking up 69th Street near Colonial Road.

The woman who runs the Hot Wok, my local Chinese food place, was crossing the street when we spotted each other.

“I had an accident in December,” I said, giving her an abbreviated version of the slip in the snow saga that has dominated my life for the last five months.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

“I’ll be back soon.”

“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “I’m just glad you’re better.”

Yeah, me, too. I walked away feeling a little more human, a little more connected to the real world.

April in New York has been too goddamn cold for my liking. I’m still doing my stairway climbs, but it sucks when you have to bundle up at a time of the year when you should be listening to the birdies chirping.

But the last two days have been more spring-like and everyone outside of an insane asylum is hoping that the warm weather has finally arrived for keeps.

I’m writing this on a bench in Shore Road Park and I can see—and hear—a couple of kids throwing themselves around in the grass. People are out, the sun is shining, and yes, the birds are chirping once again.

Behind me a city bus is loudly proclaiming “Caution, bus is turning” in a female robot voice to anyone within earshot.

Another Day in the Park

One of my neighbors greeted me when I returned home and ask my condition. I happily pointed out that I am no longer wearing leg braces.

“That’s great,” he said. “Keep getting better.”

Oh, I surely hope so. I was forced to put a substantial portion of my life on hold for the last several months and I want to get back on track with my goals. If nothing else, this disaster has shown me that there are no guarantees in this life.

Last week I started doing my stair-climbing routine on 74th Street when a heavily tattooed young man named Mike came out of one of the buildings and started talking to me.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m just recovering from a bad fall.”

We talked a little more and I learned that he had been a construction worker, but back problems have been keeping him away from work.

“Have you thought about acupuncture?” I asked. “It might help with the pain.”

“I’ll give it a try. I’m not afraid of needles with all these tattoos.”

Mike told me his grandfather had been a veteran of World War II and I explained that my dad had fought in the same conflict.

Part of my wanted to continue my workout but I thought it was more important for me to keep speaking with this young man. I could use the conversation, given my lengthy housebound status and I suspect that Mike really wanted to speak with someone too. The world can be a lonely place.

Finally, I had to leave, but Mike insisted on giving me a bottle of vitamin water even though I was three blocks from home and hadn’t broken anything vaguely resembling a sweat.

Still, I knew better than to refuse his kindness and I gladly accepted a bottle of this pink stuff.

“I’ll pray for you,” Mike said.

And I’ll pray for you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Step On Up

It was like Rocky…only in slow motion.

I took my act on the road this week, or at least on the street, when my surgeon finally gave me the okay to walk out amongst humans without leg braces, walker, or cane.

“I think you’re ready for just about anything,” he said Tuesday morning.

Ready for just about anything. I have been waiting to hear those words since mid-December when I first hit the snow-covered deck and wrecked both my knees.

Every morning when I went lumbering to rehab with those awful leg braces I told anybody within earshot that I was going to be walking every day by spring.

This latest was much more optimistic than the original estimate, when my doctor thought I’d be out of commission for 18 flipping months.

I walked home from the doctor’s office that day, both out of a desire to use my legs again and the fact that I’d had a brutal shouting match with a local car service driver and dispatcher earlier that morning after they left me hanging outside my house for 20 minutes.

“Why are you screaming, sir?” the dispatcher asked repeatedly.

I wasn’t aware that I’d been screaming, but I think the definite lack of a car might have had something to do with my consternation. My doctor’s office fills up very quickly and if you don’t get there ahead of the crowd you can kiss your schedule goodbye.

I confess I overreacted, as usual, but these people weren’t very helpful either. I’ve had a couple of battles with the neighborhood car services now and at this rate the only way I’ll be able to get a ride is to dive into a trash bag and wait for a garbage truck.

Going the Distance

On Thursday I hiked a few blocks down to Bliss Park, appropriately named on this day, when I was feeling quite happy. It’s a very hilly area, which is good for the quads, and there’s some playground equipment where I got to do some pull-ups.

Then on Friday morning I went for the big one. There’s a flight of exterior stairs on a dead-end street near my house and, though I’ve climbed them many times in the past, they now looked like Mount Everest with bannisters.

If I had been wearing cymbals on my quaking knees I could’ve started a one-man band, but
but I knew I had to attempt an ascent.

Up I went, 12 steps and then a landing, followed by 12 more and then the final dozen. I was charging to the top just like Rocky Balboa running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art—if Rocky had been 60 years old, hairless, and recovering from double knee surgery.

I turned right around, walked down to the bottom, and then headed back up. I did this routine 7 or 8 times before going the hell home.

On Saturday morning I walked 10 blocks to my favorite fruit and vegetable store, which I hadn’t visited in months and that night I went on my first big outing, as my sister and I ventured into Manhattan to see the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Conor McPherson’s production of The Seafarer.

We took yet another car service to and from the theater and I managed not to scream at the drivers either time.

It was so nice to be out and doing things, instead of parking myself in front of the TV or the computer. And this morning I went shopping at my local supermarket, after weeks of calling in the orders and having them delivered.

I intend to keep on walking every day. It builds up my leg muscles and, given my luck with car services, it may be my only way of getting around.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Forgotten Dreams

There was a time back in Seventies when I couldn’t wait to watch the evening news.

I wanted to know what was going on, of course, but I was especially interested in the sign off.

During its weekend broadcasts, Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate, would show nighttime footage of New York City during the closing credits while playing this lovely, soothing music.

This was well before, the Internet, DVRs or YouTube, where you can now access just about any kind of recording any time you want.

Back then I had to make sure I was sitting in front of our old Motorola at 11:27pm or I would miss it.

New York was in pretty rough shape back then, so these relaxing few moments provided a nice break from the wall-to-wall mayhem that seemed to follow us every day.

As crazy as the city was, this mellow music seemed to tell you it was okay to slow down a little bit and look forward to the morning. It was a little melancholy perhaps, but it was also a soundtrack for hope.

My mother loved the music as well and she often hummed along with it. And there was this one night when she, my brother Peter, and I were all watching TV when the Channel 7 began its sign off.

“Oh,” my mother sighed. “I’d love to find out the name of this music.”

Now my brother and I were teenagers and thus certified smartasses who looked for all sorts of ways to be annoying. On this evening my brother decided to give our mother a hard time.

“I hope you never find it,” he wisecracked.

This comment did not go over well with my mother and she didn’t hold back her feelings.


Yes, that’s right, my sainted mother, who hated foul language with like a temperance leader hated hooch, had just dropped the S-bomb.

What I remember most about the next few minutes was my brother’s reaction, as he put his head back and roared with laughter.

She Said…What?

Meanwhile my mother sat there with this confused and embarrassed look on her face.

“Is that something bad?” she asked quite sincerely.

Poor thing, she honestly didn’t know that the word “scumbag” was a swear word. I can only recall a few occasions in my life when I heard her let loose with the profanities and each time she had the perfect excuse.

“I was provoked,” she would solemnly declare.

And she certainly was that night. Naturally my brother tortured her with his rendition of her verbal misstep for months-perhaps years-after it happened.

Channel 7 eventually changed the closing credits on its weekend broadcasts and we pretty much forgot about that lovely music.

But then years later, while living in Connecticut, I learned that the name of that piece of music was “Forgotten Dreams,” and it had been written by a man named Leroy Anderson, who had once lived in nearby Woodbury.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Leroy Anderson was also the composer of several popular tunes, including "The Syncopated Clock,” which CBS used to introduce The Late Show, “The Typewriter Song,” which used an actual typewriter as an instrument—Youngsters will have to Google “typewriter” to understand what I’m talking about--and the holiday classic, “Sleigh Ride.”

It’s hard to believe that one man was responsible for all this fabulous music. Upon learning his named, I zipped up to the local mall and somehow got a copy of his greatest hits, which included “Forgotten Dreams. “

My family was having a get together at my aunt’s summer home in the Berkshires that particular year and I prevailed upon my brother to bring his portable CD player so I could play “Forgotten Dreams” for my mother, some 20-odd years since she that fateful night.

Her search was finally over and she didn’t even have to hurl any expletives.

I have no idea whatever became of that CD, but I’m glad I was able to help her. For some reason came back to me last week and this time I found it after a quick web search.

I invite you to listen to “Forgotten Dreams.” I’m confident that you’ll enjoy it as much as we all did.

And, if you don’t, well, my mother has the perfect word for you.