Sunday, December 30, 2018

Grand Trunk

I took a couple of photos on Christmas Day and I’ve decided they’ll serve as a nice theme for the New Year.

While on walking along Shore Road to my sister’s home, I spotted two old steamer trunks in front of an apartment building waiting to be carted off by the Sanitation Department.

Somebody was getting rid of their baggage.

Perhaps that’s twisting the metaphor a bit too far, but I don’t care. I just want to dump the junk I’ve been hauling around in my head for far too many years.

I’m not making any grand pronouncements for 2019 because we all know that most New Year’s resolutions hit the canvas in less time than it takes to make them.

I just want to check in with the progress—or lack of it—I’ve had in reaching my goals. There are writing projects, career objectives, and personal undertakings that I’ve let slip away from me.

I can do this any time of the year, of course, but New Year’s Day seems like a good jumping off point.

Now 2018 was a bit of challenge, as I was recuperating from my surgery, but I don’t want to harp on that for the rest of my life. It’s over and done, now let’s move on.

I got some good advice from Fred the Shrink a while back that I’m only now starting to appreciate. I was talking about trying hard to succeed and he flipped the script on me.

“You’ve tried hard,” he said, “now try easy.”

At first, I thought he was talking about slacking off or giving up entirely. But I see now he was referring to my attitude: I can chase my dreams with the same amount of energy as always, but I don’t have to get all worked up and psychotic in the process.

Baggage Claim

The frenzied approach hasn’t paid off for me anyway, so this might be a good time to give it the heave-ho.

I saw this principle at work last week during my boxing class. We had a low turnout due to the holiday, which meant the few, the proud, and the crazy got more attention from our instructor Abby.

In fact, instead of doing one circuit around the room, we got to do two of them—including a pair of one-on-one sessions with Abby and his mitts of doom.

In the first go-round I felt tight and awkward. I was putting out tons of effort, but I was disappointed with the results. I dreaded the next round because by the time I did a second run of the circuit I would be even more exhausted than I already was.

If only I stayed home in bed…

However, I was more at ease in the next round.

Abby complimented my technique and I relaxed, forgetting about fatigue and how I looked in front of my classmates—always a big issue with me--and just let my hands go. And it felt good.

I tried hard and then I tried easy.

I had a similar experience during my morning meditation. Lately, I haven’t been achieving the deep state of relaxation that I normally do and I wasn’t sure why.

And naturally the more I thought about this situation, the less relaxed I became.

But things were different this morning. I stopped thinking so damn much and decided that I would accept whatever happened—good, bad, or whatever. This is meditation, not The Hunger Games.

And by doing that, I was able to have the best meditation I’ve had in weeks. I was breathing deeply and relaxing every muscle in my body. It was epic.

So, I’m not going to swear on stack of bibles or cross my heart and hope to die that I’ll keep all my resolutions for 2019. I’m just going to pack up all my cares and woe and put them out on the corner for the garbageman to take.

I’ve tried hard and now I’m going to try easy.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ship to Shore

At last my diet soda addiction finally paid off.

Every year around this time I vow to rid myself of these vile sugarless soft drinks that have been polluting my body since the Jimmy Carter Administration.

This year will be no exception, of course, but on Saturday, my weakness for caramel-colored chemicals actually had an upside for once.

I was at a local supermarket picking up some diet ice tea, which unfortunately for me, was on sale for a ridiculously low price.

The place wasn’t particularly crowded, but I sensed that it was all aglow with holiday excitement. Or maybe that was the caffeine withdrawal talking.

Anyway, I was online all set to checkout when I realized I hadn’t picked up an extra bottle of Diet Coke.

I loathe counter shoppers—these losers who dump their goods in front of the cashier and continue their buying spree- (I tell ya, there oughta a law!)—so I abandoned my spot on the line, dashed over to the soda aisle and bounced back with my prize hoping to reclaim my spot.

However, this older gentleman stepped up in front of with two cartons of eggs in his hands. All right, I figured, he doesn’t have much. I’ll be out of here in no time.

As I waited, I noticed that this man was wearing what appeared to be a veteran’s cap. When he turned I caught sight of “World War II” stitched into his cap and realized he was a veteran—just like my father.

I wanted to talk to him, but I felt a little awkward. I didn’t want to bother the guy. He’s just buying some eggs and minding his own business. Perhaps I should do the same—minus the eggs.

But several years ago, I saw a WWII veteran and his wife while riding the subway and I regretted not speaking to him. I decided to talk to this man at the counter. The worst that could happen is that I’d get pelted with eggs.

“You fought in World War II?” I asked.

Atlantic Crossing

No response. Apparently, he didn’t hear me. So, while Frank Sinatra sang over the sound system about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I waited until the gentleman turned my way.

“You fought in World War II?” I repeated.

“Yes, I did.”

“My Dad served in the army,” I said. “In Europe. What about you?”

“I was in the Navy—on a troop ship going back and forth.”

“Well, thank you for your service,” I said.

Troop ships carried thousands of soldiers-like my father-to and from the United States, Europe, Great Britain, Africa, Asia and Australia.

My dad was a legendary pain in the ass on the way over to Europe and he proudly told me that his fellow soldiers got so fed up with his shipboard shenanigans that they dragged his mattress up from down below and threw it out on the deck.

It’s a wonder he made it to the war alive.

“I just made 92,” the old sailor said.

I wasn’t sure what he was saying at first, but then I realized he was telling me his age.

“Well, God bless you,” I said.

So, this man was born in 1926, the year that Houdini died, Hirohito was crowned emperor of Japan, and the short-lived Treaty of Berlin, where Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to stay neutral if one was attacked by any third party, was signed.

It’s amazing to think how the world has changed in that time.

The man paid for his eggs, wished me a happy holiday and went on his way. I’m glad I decided to speak with him and I’m so happy that there are still a few of these old timers still around. They did so much for this country, but their sacrifice is being forgotten.

In a week or so I’ll make another attempt at kicking the diet drink habit. I know that stuff is all kinds of bad for me, but it’s almost worth the internal abuse if it gives me a chance to meet a real live hero.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Down This Mean Street

I turned on to the short street one block down from Third Avenue on Friday morning and braced myself.

This was the one-year anniversary of my double-knee surgery, after I had fallen in the snow in front of a house on this street.

That was the start of a hellishly long hospital stay and a lengthy rehab.

As I walked, I had a powerful urge to bare my buttocks at the house where I had hit the deck and scream, “I’m still here, you sons-of-bitches!” at the top of my voice.

But I resisted.

This isn’t a time for anger; it’s a time for gratitude. There’s a lot of turmoil going on in my life right now, but at least I’m here to deal with it.

Yes, it’s already been a year. The event seems both distant and recent—and somewhat surreal.

How you much you like them pants?

That was what the EMT said to me after I had been loaded in an ambulance last year.

“Well,” I said, “I just got them…and they’re very warm. Why do you ask?”

“We may have to cut you out of them.”

It turns they didn’t have to slice up my blue jeans and I’m wearing them right now as I write this. Of course, it was a while before I could put on pants because I was wearing leg braces for months. Back then, I went from hospital gowns to gym pants.

I couldn’t use the bathroom in those early days after the surgery and I have this ugly memory of sitting on a bedpan in the middle of night and crying at thought of being bedridden for so long.

One of the doctors, a very nice Russian lady, encouraged me to think positively, saying that it would help my recovery. And she was right. Despair does nothing but dig you deeper into a hole.

Home Safe

My poor sister ran herself ragged getting the surgeon to examine me and hooking me up with the right people. And my poor auntie was worried sick about me.

After the operation, I went to the hospital’s rehab section every day, first in a wheelchair and then on the walker.

The young women who worked with me in those early, awful days were absolute saints and I wish them all the best.

I spent last Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. I guess it was fortunate that we had such a bitter cold winter, since I doubt if I would’ve been going anywhere even if I hadn’t been injured.

When I came home I was a virtual prisoner, pretty much stuck up on the third floor, unable to leave, except for a daily stiff-legged climb up and down the stairs.

As I got better I felt a need to do some kind of physical exercise. My shrink suggested seated aerobic workouts on YouTube, which I had never heard of. But it turns out they’re a real thing.

At first, I felt rather foolish doing these routines. Sitting in a chair and waving my arms around—it was ridiculous.

But then it finally occurred to me that there are plenty of people in this world who have no choice but to do these exercises because they can’t walk—and never will.

People have been very kind to me when I tell them about my accident and they expressed their concern, but I remind them that I had I hit my head on that day last year I probably wouldn’t be here.

I’ve been back at the gym several months now, even though the original prognosis called for me to be laid up for at least a year-and-a-half.

So, there are plenty of things in my life to be thankful for and I’m not going to waste time with regret or bitterness.

And, rest assured, that while I won’t be baring my keester in public, I do want to let people know that, yes, I’m still here, you sons-of-bitches.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Past Picture Perfect

I wish I had a camera.

You don’t hear that line much anymore in this age of smart phones that take photos, give directions, translate other languages, send text messages, give mambo lessons, and, oh, yeah, make calls.

But I remember the days when you’d see something cool or exciting or beautiful and you’d stand there just awestruck by whatever the hell you were looking at for a few seconds until you realized you have no way of sharing this moment with others—except by telling them about it.

I’m not knocking story-telling by any means, but sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand clich├ęs.

This mini-rant is brought to you by a stray memory that came sliding into my mind yesterday and refused to leave. It was back in the Seventies, somewhere in the vicinity of a little town called Peru, Vermont, where my family and I were staying for a few weeks.

One night we were coming of a local restaurant and heading back to our car when something caught my eye.

It was two dogs sitting inside a parked car--one behind the wheel, the other sitting in the passenger seat.

They were looking straight ahead and they seemed ready to crank up the engine and go for a drive around town. A professional animal photographer could not have set this up better.

I quickly turned to my family and pointed at the car-bound canines, whereupon my mother let out this tremendous laugh.

“Look at them!” she said.

Unfortunately, none of us had a camera. Smart phones didn’t exist back then, of course, but why the hell didn’t one of us have a film camera? My parents had given me cameras as presents when I was growing up, but for whatever reason I wasn’t packing one of them.

It’s just so annoying because I’m sure a picture of these two dogs would’ve gotten some kind award or prize. But I guess photographs had more value back then because it was tougher to get good ones.

We had a good laugh, drove back to our motel, and eventually forgot about the two driving dogs.

Flash in the Pan

Last week I was tooling around on YouTube last week when I came across a video of Sting and Bruce Springsteen from October 1988 teaming up to sing “Every Breath You Take.”

I waste far too much time on YouTube, but I’m almost able to forgive myself when I come across gems like these. One of the people writing in the comment section made an intriguing observation.

Not a single freaking phone in the air,” this person wrote. “Only people actually enjoying the hell out of this amazing concert. Good times.”

I realized how right this person was. There were no raised hands clutching I-phones, no relentless flash attack, and no crappy amateur videos that people insist on shooting and posting.

This was 1988 bro,” another commenter wrote. “When life was simple and FUN!!!

I think this second person is getting a little too nostalgic. I have fond memories of the Eighties, too—mostly because I was younger—but does anyone want to give up smartphones and the Internet for fax machines and beepers?

Beepers were the killer device in that distance decade, but today they seem about as sophisticated as a flintlock pistol.

I confess I’m guilty of being a camera hound, as I take photos of nearly anything that catches my eye—mostly because I can.

You don’t have to worry about getting film developed or even taking a bad shot because you can either take dozens more or digitally doctor the original photo until it looks just the way you want it.

All this picture-taking could have serious implications down the road for our beleaguered brains.

A recent article in Vox warned that “in many cases, scientists are finding that constant photo taking actually diminishes our ability to recall our experiences, diverts our attention, and takes us out of the moment.”

I have firsthand experience with this phenomenon. My sister and I were watching a fireworks display at Coney Island one summer night when she pointed out that I wasn’t really watching at all. I was too busy taking photos of the rockets’ red glare.

“You’re not watching the fireworks,” she said.

Point well taken. I’ll try to enjoy experiences while they happen, instead of trying to memorialize them ever so briefly for Facebook.

Now I should mention here that I’m working on a story involving a dog, so I suspect that’s where this seemingly random recollection actually comes from. To be honest, I think my favorite part of that double dog moment in Vermont isn’t so much the dogs themselves, but the beautiful sound of my mother’s laughter.

And you can’t take a picture of that.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Oculus Prime

There’s nothing like watching children at play to help you forget your problems.

I take a boxing class near City Hall twice a week and, on the way to the gym, I walk by the Oculus, the transit hub-shopping center-9/11 Memorial, but I rarely have the time to go inside.

I arrive before sunrise and when class is over, I don’t have much time for sightseeing.

Now, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Oculus when I first saw it. I found the $4 billion-dollar structure’s design to be a bit weird and off-putting. And what’s with that name?

The fact that all these shops and stores were located so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks didn’t help much either.

I know that life has to go on, of course, but the memory of the horrible day will always be on my mind when I walk around that area.

Last week I had some business to take care of in and around lower Manhattan so I took the opportunity to walk around the Oculus for a little while.

I had a good feeling when I went into the place as I held the door open for a man who was leaving.

“Thank you, brother,” he said on his way out.

My pleasure, my brother. It’s really not that hard to be kind and it feels so good when you help people out—even if it’s something as minor as this.

Got a Light?

The place was busy with commuters and tourists and the holiday decorations were up.

I took a seat on a large white slab that I eventually figured out was a bench and let the world roll on by.

I was seated before a family of snow people and I happened to catch sight of this adorable little girl who was chasing after a laser-projected snowflake that periodically appeared on the floor.

She laughed as she tried to catch up with the thing until it vanished, and then she’d start up again as soon as it reappeared.

I could have watched this little girl all day. She was so happy running after this elusive light that I briefly forgot all my problems and just enjoyed this impromptu show. I wanted to take her picture, by the way, but I was too busy enjoying the moment.

On my next visit I sat down on the white slab-bench and watched a little boy bond with the artificial snow people.

Of course, they weren’t the least bit artificial to this little guy as he hopped all around them like they were his best friends.

It never ceases to amaze me how children can create their own fun.

We give them toys, games, and, most disturbingly, smartphones, to keep them occupied, but their imaginations can quite literally create something out of nothing.

All they had was a beam of light and some sculpted pieces of fiberglass and metal. Yet, there they were, making spirits bright.

The holidays can be a time of pressure and sadness for many of us, but seeing these children reminded me that you can really find magic in the season—you just have to pay attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Carnival of Life

There’s no better way of celebrating the holidays than watching an old-time horror movie—at least that’s what my family did this year.

I got together with my sister and auntie on Thanksgiving Day for the usual blast of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and apple pie. And wine. Oh, yeah, plenty of wine.

The food was fabulous and I ate like it was my last meal. I know people always say that on Thanksgiving, but this time I really broke the record.

Even my loose pants couldn’t handle the strain of my bulging waistline.

It was bitter cold in my part of the world on Thursday, so I was extremely thankful to be indoors spending time with the people I love. And the wine. Really thankful for the wine.

After dinner we waddled over to the living room to watch some tube and relax.

This is the start of the Christmas insanity and there are plenty of holiday movies and specials to watch, but it just so happened that my sister had recorded Carnival of Souls, a horror movie cult classic that never failed to scare the screaming hell out of us when we were kids.

It was the perfect antidote to all those obnoxious Black Friday commercials that poured out of the TV, urging us to buy stuff until we keel over.

Made in 1962 on a shoestring budget, Carnival of Souls tells the story of Mary Henry, a young woman who mysteriously survives when the car she and her two friends are riding in sails off a bridge and plunges into a river.

Mary, who has no memory of what happened, moves away from her hometown to play the organ at a Salt Lake City church. However, she is being haunted by a ghoul in a black suit whom no one else can see, and her life soon goes straight to hell—literally.

Birds Gotta Fly

Director Herk Harvey—who played the aforementioned ghoul—worked at Centron Studios, an industrial film company in Lawrence, Kansas, and he got the idea for the movie after driving by the crumbling Saltair Amusement Park. The park plays a major and very spooky role in the movie.

The film was made on the cheap, but Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford accomplished so much.

They put together a pretty scary flick without blowing through millions of dollars and cramming the thing with half-assed special effects and computer generated quackery. They actually had to rely on skill and imagination. Aspiring filmmakers could learn a whole hell of a lot from this movie.

I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this movie, but if I had a dollar for every viewing I suspect I could buy my own amusement park.

In one of the film’s creepier scenes, Mary finds that people cannot see or hear her, even when she’s right up in their faces and she can’t hear any sounds at all.

It’s a very disturbing depiction of isolation and perhaps an unwitting commentary on the loneliness that continues to plague our society.

Only now the problem has been exacerbated by the cellphones and the I-pods that we’ve grafted onto our hearts and minds.

Mary is about to crack when she is able to hear a bird chirping. And, it’s strange, but the scene got me thinking about how short and precious life is; how something as mundane as the sound of a bird chirping suddenly becomes valuable beyond measure when it’s taken away.

The film continues to a grisly climax, which I will not spoil for those who haven’t seen it.

I know that it sounds strange to get a life lesson from a nearly 60-year-old zero budge horror movie, but it’s the lesson that matters, not the source.

I’m really grateful that I picked up on that message because I want to hear those birds chirping for as long as I possibly can.

And wine, oh, yeah, I’m really thankful for wine.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Long Night’s Journey

It must have been the longest night of my father’s life.

My dad was a veteran and I grew up hear his stories about fighting in World War II.

These stories were frightening, tragic, and occasionally funny and I never tired of hearing them.

There was this one time when he was trapped in a foxhole during a lengthy attack.

The shells kept on falling and my father had nowhere to go, so he was forced to take cover in this wet, filthy hole in the ground all night long.

I can’t begin to imagine how terrifying that experience must have been, to be trapped in the freezing darkness while the whole world blows up all around you.

When the sun finally came up and the explosions ended—for the moment, anyway—both my father’s feet were so badly frostbitten that he couldn’t walk.

A pair of medics eventually showed up, loaded him onto a stretcher and began taking him to the nearest field hospital.

As they walked the artillery fire started kicking up again. The two medics panicked, dropped the stretcher that was carrying my father, and jumped into a ditch on the side of the road—leaving my dad completely exposed.

These two guys were pretty green and they didn’t realize that the artillery blasts were outgoing and heading in the enemy’s direction. My father was an old hand by then and he knew exactly what was going on.

The two medics climbed up out of the ditch, picked up the stretcher, and resumed carrying my father back to safety.

Walk On

Once again, the cannons roared and once again these two medics dropped my dad’s stretcher on the side of the road. When they dropped my father a third time, he let his feelings be known.

“That’s our artillery, for Christ’s sake!” he shouted. “If you see me get up off this stretcher, then you’ll know we’re being attacked!”

The medics got the message, straightened up, and took my father in for treatment. I always laughed at how my father lambasted those two medics, but to be honest I can’t say I blame those guys all that much.

An explosion is an explosion and I would imagine that you have to survive a number of them before you’re able to figure out the details.

But what kind of price do you pay when you go through repeated artillery attacks?

We’ve had plenty more wars since that time and the weapons have gotten more horrific.

The soldiers get a ceremony on Veterans Day, but eventually governments find another reason to go to war and we have a whole new generation of scarred survivors.

I remember watching a documentary about World War II with my father one night. The film included newsreel footage of several GIs taking a break from the fighting.

“Look at their eyes,” my father said. “You can see that they’ve been through shelling.”

I looked but I can’t really say that I saw anything unusual about these men. Now that I’m older, I’d like another chance. I’d like to look into those tired eyes one more time and maybe get an idea of what my father saw.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Big Ball of Irony

It feels like someone broke open the gates of Hell.

Wildfires have been ripping through California, killing at least 25 people and burning more than 100,000 acres.

California was the site of our latest Second Amendment massacre, which happened in Thousand Oaks, where a deranged gunman shot up a local bar on Friday, killing 12 people, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who was planning to retire in a year or two.

The slaughter was committed by yet another loner psychotic with a gun who also killed himself.

There were all the usual elements of a mass shooting: footage of survivors and family members sobbing in each other’s arms; lines of police cars and ambulances streaking up to some blood-soaked location, and, yes, thoughts and prayers for the victims.

There’s also the mini-biographies of the victims, most of whom were so young and ready to start their lives.

Several of them had actually witnessed last year’s Las Vegas mass shooting and one of them, Telemachus Orfanos, survived that massacre only to die in this latest obscenity.

His mother, Susan Orfanos, furiously rejected the thoughts and prayers routine for the worthless bilge that it is.

"My son was in Las Vegas with a lot of his friends and he came home,” she told reporters. “He didn't come home last night, and I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control, and I hope to God nobody sends me anymore prayers. I want gun control. No more guns.”

Even the killer was having none of that, as he made social media posts during the massacre.

“I hope people call me insane,” he wrote. “...wouldn't that just be a big ball of irony? Yeah... I'm insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is 'hopes and prayers'... or 'keep you in my thoughts'... every time... and wonder why these keep happening...”

Call Me Insane

You have to wonder just how bad things are when even the killers are calling bullshit on the whole thoughts and prayer schtick.

I should mention here that I actually do pray for the victims, even though the list gets longer every week. I don’t have any power to change what’s happened so often prayers are the best thing I have to offer.

But I also know that there are times when prayers aren’t enough and that God really does help those who help themselves. God didn’t give Noah the Ark. He told him to build one, warning him that the Great Flood was coming and that Noah should get busy with the hammer and the saw.

That’s what we have here, only instead of water we’re drowning in innocent blood.

But nothing will change. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Donald Trump said guns had nothing to do with the fact that all those people had gotten shot.

Who could argue with that kind of logic?

The orange goon is also peddling a right-wing fairy tale about the wildfires, blaming them on “gross management of the forests,” instead of climate change, and threatening to pull federal funding if California doesn’t “remedy the situation,” like some cheap hoodlum.

Today is Veterans Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. President Bone Spurs is in France now, but he couldn’t drag his fat ass to Aisne-Marne American cemetery because of allegedly bad weather.

This is the “man” who spends more time on golf courses and attending rallies than he does on Pennsylvania Avenue.

My father was a World War II veteran and he told me that his platoon spent so much time training in mud-covered areas that they were dubbed “Lenihan and his Muskrats.” I wonder what he would have thought of Trump’s excuse for skipping a memorial service.

A century ago, politicians pushed this lie that the First World War would be the “war to end all wars.” It reminds me of the NRA fantasy that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and Trump’s own gem about climate change being a hoax created by China.

You could twist words anyway you like, but the fires are still burning, the mass shootings are still happening, and the gates of hell are flying off their hinges.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Eye in the Sky

There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic Goodfellas where Ray Liotta’s uber-paranoid gangster is convinced a helicopter is following him.

As the coked-up criminal frantically tries to escape the mysterious chopper, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” cranks up on the soundtrack.

I always loved that scene, but recently I got a chance to experience what that guy was going through.

I had gotten up nice and early one morning for my daily meditation. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and I am slowly seeing the benefits of this daily practice.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and do my very best to be mindful and present. And I think it’s helped me a lot.

I’m a little better at taming the anger and reining in the depression. It’s been an extremely slow process, but I’m encouraged by my progress and I want to continue improving.

Now some sessions are better than others and on this particular morning I was really nailing it—if I do say so myself. I was breathing so deeply and slowly that it was almost like an out of body experience.

In this raucous, crazy city a short period of early morning silence is solid gold.

And then a helicopter flew over my house.

All right, I thought, give it a few seconds and it’ll be gone. The pilot is just zipping overhead on his way to somewhere else. It was mildly annoying, but this is New York, after all, and you can’t expect to live in total stillness.

Only the thing didn’t go away. For whatever reason, the chopper pilot double-parked in a patch of sky right above my head and refused to budge.

I tried to ignore the noise and focus on my breathing, but that wasn’t working.

You Can Climb a Mountain, You Can Swim the Sea

Okay, then, I reasoned, since focus is an important part of mediation, I could focus on the helicopter’s noise and still achieve my higher state of consciousness.

But that didn’t’ work either.

I found myself getting angry, which is exactly what I’m trying to avoid when I meditate.

I thought of the old “black helicopter” conspiracy theories that were big in the Nineties, when the tinfoil hat crowd was convinced mysterious choppers were mutilating cattle or taking over the government or some other such conspiratorial chazzerai.

Only this was real.

The timer eventually went off and I was about as close to mindfulness as I was to the North Pole. And the helicopter was still there.

The whole meditation was ruined, I grumbled.

Of course, any yoga or Zen master would’ve gently dismissed such a pedestrian idea.

You can’t ruin meditation. Any attempt at meditation is better than no attempt at all and mindfulness is a lifelong practice, not something you do for 20 minutes in the morning.

I’ve been suffering from a nasty cold for the last few days and the negative thoughts have been roaring through my mind like the attacking helicopters in Apocalypse Now.

These enemy aircraft—anger, despair, resentment—have been buzzing around for years, but they’ve been hovering in my subconscious for so long that I've just tuned out the noise.

Meditation has helped me spot them sooner. It’s just tougher to fight them off when I’m sick though because my guard is down and I slip back into the old bad habits.

Okay. I know this illness will pass, I’ll get back into my routine, and I will continue to improve.

And when the helicopters come after me, the first thing I’ll do is jump out of the damn fire.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bloody Curtain

I was sitting in the theater yesterday when I had this stray thought about the outside world.

While I was thoroughly immersed in The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s riveting drama about a rural Irish family that gets caught up in The Troubles of sectarian violence, I briefly wondered what was happening in the so-called real world.

The play runs over three hours and I was unable to appease my I-phone addiction and, given the current political climate, I had this strange feeling that something major could be going on.

Well, I found out a short time later over dinner that “something major” was yet another mass shooting in America, this time at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where an anti-Semitic psychopath shouting “All Jews must die!” allegedly shot 11 people to death and wounded six others before the cops shot him and took him into custody.

I almost wish I hadn’t looked at my phone.

I keep saying that it’s pointless to write about these slaughters, that nothing will change thanks to the gutless whores we have in congress and in the White House.

In fact, I was even working on another post for this week, but I can’t ignore this latest horror show, especially given the appalling week my country just endured.

In addition to the Pittsburgh nightmare, we also had a Trump-loving lunatic—which sounds redundant—send pipe bombs to two former U.S. Presidents and several major leaders and supporters of the opposing party, as well as CNN and Robert DeNiro.

Right-wingers were all too eager to suggest or outright say that the attempted bombings were a so-called “false flag” planted by Democrats, but in the end, as Bill Maher noted, the suspect turned out to be “an angry asshole in a red hat.”

We had another crazed white gunman in Kentucky gun down two African-Americans--Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69—at a Kroger store.

Make America Hate Again

Police said the alleged murderer tried to enter a historically black church minutes before heading to the grocery store.

And during this terrible time, we’re saddled with Donald Trump, a raging narcissist and shameless bigot, who managed to blame the victims of the synagogue slaughter by saying the facility—a house of worship—should’ve had an armed security guard.

The nerve of those pesky Jews getting shot like that. Of course, four of the wounded were armed police officers responding to the incident and guns didn’t seem to do them much good. But don’t tell that to the Trumpanzees. They don’t handle reality very well.

This is the same nationalist president, by the way, who managed to tweet about the World Series just hours after the Pittsburgh massacre, so we know what his priorities are.

He also tweet-bitched that the pipe bomber was taking the attention off the really important things, like the alleged caravan of migrants who are inching their way up from Central America to steal our jobs and commit acts of terror.

However, at the rate they’re moving and the frequency of these mass shootings, there may not be anyone left to terrorize when they finally do get here.

Mike Pence, Trump’s bible-blabbing android, spewed the standard “thoughts and prayers” horseshit, which not only doesn’t help, but actually makes things just a little bit worse.

The Ferryman covers such issues as extremism, corruption, and senseless violence, and during the climax, when things spin completely out of control, one of the characters frantically cries out “what do we do? What do we do?”

The play ended 24 hours ago and I’m still asking that question. What do we do?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Time of Our Lives

It seems like it just a minute ago we were all so young.

I met up with some friends from high school earlier this month and I can’t stop doing the math.

Was it really that many years ago that we all first met? Are we really that old?

And, for the love of God, can we get a recount?

The mini-reunion got me thinking about other people I knew back when I was a teenager and I decided to waste some of the time I have left by poking around on Facebook.

I noticed that one of my friends had friended a guy I knew in high school who was nicknamed “Pooch.”

We weren’t close, but we were friendly enough, at least for a while. At some point, though, things soured somewhat between us and I’m not sure why. I am certainly partially to blame for the rift because back then I was quick to take offense and all too eager to hold to it.

This is still a problem, by the way, but at least now I acknowledge it and I’m trying to improve.

I never saw Pooch after high school and I didn’t think about him at all until I ran across him on Facebook. He had become a doctor and was also the father and a grandfather--which spooked the hell out of me.

I started feeling badly about how we had left things off back in the Seventies. I thought it would be a nice if we could talk and clear things up—assuming, of course, he even remembered who I was.

But I made absolutely no effort to turn this thought into reality. I just…thought about it.

And then I clicked on to his page and saw that Pooch had died last year at the age of 59. It felt so strange looking at his photo while recalling the kid in high school. And I feel so badly for his family.

Back to Work

A few months ago, a freelance reporter contacted me about a murder case in the Poconos I had covered in the 1980s.

He was working on a book about the case and wanted to shake up my memory, but honestly, I was of very little help to him, as I had just covered the arrest and very little else.

At some point I mentioned my old editor at the paper and he told me that he had died a few years ago.

Now I was not friends with this editor in any way—in fact, we had some pretty nasty encounters during my time there and I was convinced that he showed extreme favoritism to another reporter whom I absolutely despised.

I was so angry with the management at that place that I had hard time putting them out of my mind even after I moved on to another paper.

But now all the bickering and the hostility that occupied so much of my time back then seem meaningless now.

Yeah, the situation at that newspaper sucked big time, but I know I could’ve handled things better.

And, failing at that, I could have—and should have—gotten out of there a hell of a lot of sooner than I did.

People are always going to butt heads. That’s inevitable. But you have to guard your own health and happiness, so if you’re in a bad spot, get out of it as soon as possible. If you want to patch things up with someone, do it as soon as you can.

Keep the toxic emotions to a minimum and you won’t have to be sorry later on.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Temple of Zoom

If I knew I was going on an adventure I would’ve worn a pith helmet.

I met up with a friend on Saturday to check out an old building and wound up doing some serious time traveling.

We were enjoying the annual Open House New York event, where hundreds of the city’s normally off-limits sites and attractions are open to the public.

My aunt suggested checking out the old Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn on DeKalb Avenue, a building I had spotted a few weeks ago while running an errand downtown.

At the time I snapped a photo of the outside and wondered what the interior looked like. Here was my chance to find out.
So, I contacted my buddy Maria for a little urban exploring.

Now I have to confess that I was a little concerned that I was inviting my friend to view a musty old mausoleum. What a great way to spend a Saturday, right?

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The second we walked into the place I knew we had discovered a real gem.

Designed by Mowbray & Uffinger and built between 1906 and 1908, the Dime Savings bank is a work of art.

The vast building was made to look like Greek temple complete with a rotunda supported by red marble columns that were made from stone imported from ancient Greek quarries. I’ve been in a lot of churches in my life and this place definitely seemed like holy ground.

“I feel like Indiana Jones,” I whispered.

The rotunda was lined with marble benches and several quotes were carved into these benches to give you a lesson as well as a place to rest your caboose. These included little ditties like "Honesty is exact to the penny,” “Sloth is a motor of poverty,” and “From saving comes having.”

Walking around, I imagined men with derbies and canes and women in long dresses with parasols, coming in here to do their business. You could almost feel the souls passing through you.

Everywhere you looked there were fabulous carvings or symbols of some type. The designers were real artists and they wanted to build something that would last.

This neighborhood, like so such much of Brooklyn, is changing rapidly, with old buildings being either renovated or torn down and new structures sprouting up every time you turn around.

The bank is going to survive this onslaught—more or less.

There are plans to build a 73-story mixed-use tower with nearly 500 rental apartments next door to the bank. It will be the tallest building in the borough and the Dime will be used for retail space.

We were having such a good time that Maria checked her phone to see if any other landmarks in the open house were nearby.

“The Wifi here is terrible,” she said, and I had to laugh at the incongruity of mentioning the internet in a such an ancient place like this.

When she finally got a connection, we learned that the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a memorial to more than 11,500 American prisoners of war who died aboard 16 British prison ships during the Revolutionary War, was on the list and just short stroll DeKalb Avenue at Fort Greene Park.

The park is located directly across the street from my alma mater, Brooklyn Technical High School. Now I was a student there back in the Seventies, when the area was a crime-infested hellhole and nobody, I mean nobody, wanted to live there.

I went to Tech for four years but I never even thought about putting one foot in the park back in those dire, dark days.

Saturday was the first time I actually went in there, though I confess it took me a little while to relax because I was half-convince some lingering freak would bum rush us.

But that didn’t happen. The park is beautiful and it was filled with people having fun, not criminals raising hell.

After a brief stop at the Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street, we decided to wrap things up.

As we walked down Flatbush building we heard a terrible crash coming across the avenue. We saw a huge cloud of dust and realized one of the crumbling buildings on that block had come tumbling down.

It sounded like a disaster instead of a controlled event, but I did see some kind of construction equipment nearby, so I reckon it was planned. It was scary nonetheless.

But I guess that was the sound of time marching on, rolling over the past and constantly building anew.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Pay What You Wish

Is there an oddsmaker in the house?

I had a chance encounter recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art that I’m still having trouble believing actually happened.

If I had to pick a theme song for this particular Friday night in the Meatpacking District it would unquestionably be OMC’s 1995 hit “How Bizarre” because that’s the only word that fits the situation.

I had gone to the Whitney’s new digs on Gansevoort Street in my half-hearted effort to get the hell away from the DVR and walk amongst human beings.

It was pay-what-you-wish night, which caused a massive but relatively-fast moving line to form outside the museum’s front door. Once I was inside I went to the top floor and worked my way down.

The new Whitney building is a work of art on its own with observation decks on several floors that offer fabulous views of the city. I thought some of the exhibits were a little strange, but I was trying to keep an open mind.

Plus, the Whitney has a number of Edward Hopper paintings that I absolutely love.

After a while I decided it was time to go home and I was riding the elevator down to the lobby when I realized I hadn’t seen the exhibits on the fifth floor.

Oh, screw it, I thought, you’ve seen enough. Go home. The couch and the remote are calling out to you.

It's Making Me Crazy

But I didn’t want to bail. I have a habit of leaving places too soon and going just as the party gets started. I didn’t have any place to be and I wasn’t sure when I’d be coming back, so why not stick around?

I zipped back up to the fifth floor, stepped off the elevator, and locked eyes with my old friend Phil, who I have not seen in years.

It was just so twisted running into him after I had pretty much given up on seeing him ever again.

If Albert Einstein tried to work out the odds of meeting someone in New York in the same museum on the same night his head would explode. I was leaving for God’s sake, and it was just a last-minute decision to go back upstairs.

In many ways this felt like running into an ex-girlfriend, which I’ve also done.

We chatted for a little while and I told him about my accident and that I was looking for work.

There was nothing heavy, as this was neither the time nor the place, and, frankly, I don’t think there will ever be a time and a place for that kind of conversation.

Phil was with some friends, who were preparing to leave, so we parted company and I exited the Whitney—for real this time.

Nothing was resolved, as far as I’m concerned, but I am grateful than I saw him again and I can accept the fact that, for whatever reason, we have gone our separate ways.

But what I’m feeling most of all is shock. I still can’t believe we ran into each other in this city of eight million people.

I have asked God for so much in my lifetime, but even I don’t have the nerve to ask the Almighty to pull an almighty crazy-ass stunt like this. Maybe it’s a case of don’t ask and you shall receive.

As OMC would say, how bizarre.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Empty Seat

We lost such a beautiful voice last week.

I’ve been taking this fabulous class “Five for Five” for the last three years and not only have I learned so much about the craft of writing, but I've also had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people.

One of those people was Kathleen, a lovely woman and an amazing writer, who died last week from cancer.

I’m still having trouble accepting this terrible news.

The class is going to start up again in a few weeks and it’s hard to believe that we won’t see Kathleen again, that she won’t be sitting on the couch in our teacher, Rosemary’s, living room, sharing her writing, her thoughts, and her heart.

Every week I looked forward to hearing her work, much of which was autobiographical. Kathleen was an Irish Catholic like yours truly so I appreciated her stories about our tribe.

She was also so insightful and supportive when commenting on our work. One night I was suffering from a hideous cold and I somehow managed to drag myself to class, follow Rosemary’s prompts, and produce something readable.

I was happy to get through the class without keeling over, but Kathleen made a point of approaching me when we were leaving and complimenting my work.

“You did great work tonight,” she said. “And you were sick!”

Those few words did more to make me feel better than a crateful of Vitamin C. And Kathleen and her husband were kind enough to come to my book signing last year, along with the rest of my classmates.

You Will Know That I Am Gone

As her illness worsened, Kathleen started missing classes. She was due to come to a recent class, but at the last minute we learned that she had taken a bad turn and had to go to the hospital. A short time later we found out she had died.

Several months I posted a link on Facebook to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition of the Sixties folk song “500 Miles.”

“That’s from my generation!” Kathleen wrote in the comments section.

The song opens up with the line “if you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone,” and those words have taken on a new meaning for me.

People like Kathleen are rare in this life and I feel so blessed for having known her.

There are so many things that I want to tell her and ask her, and it hurts to know that I'll never get the chance.

I saw Kathleen at our group reading in August. Her work was fabulous, as always, and I was just so happy to see her. I had no idea it would be the last time.

I wrote to her in June to tell her how much we all missed her and she told me how the disease “had me on a roller coaster.”

“I want to get back to my real life immediately and that just does not work,” she said. “If I rest now I will have a life to live.”

Kathleen thanked me for writing and added that “at least I’m over the ‘poor me’,” which is a testament to her courage and a lesson for us all.

She ended her message with “Lots of love, Kathleen.”

That’s what I’m feeling now, beneath this terrible sadness, I have lots of love for you, Kathleen, and I always will.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tone at the Top

I picked up my home phone’s receiver on Thursday and listened to something I hadn’t heard in months.

A dial tone.

Ever since my accident in December, I’ve been pretty much living off my cellphone.

I preferred the mobile unit to the hospital’s phone and it was more convenient to use the cell when I got home and had to lumber around the house in leg braces for weeks.

However, my old landline phone was getting ready to call it a day and I asked my sister to get me a new landline phone for Christmas.

The new one is a beauty and comes with a spare receiver that I set up near the TV so I wouldn’t have to dash into my computer room every time someone called me.

There was only one problem: I couldn’t get it to work.

I read the directions over and over, but I couldn’t make sense out of them. I pressed the various buttons, plugged in all wires and the thing was still as dead as Kelsey’s nuts, as my father used to say.

I should mention here that I have no idea who Kelsey was or what caused his unfortunate condition, but the expression just seems to fit this situation.

I repeatedly promised myself that I’d call tech support and get the phone working, but I let the days go by without taking any action.

When I finally called tech support, surprise, surprise, they were experiencing heavier than normal call volume—what exactly is normal call volume?—and I had another excuse not do anything.

Still On The Line

I told people to call my cell until I figured out the situation with the new phone—like it was some great mystery that I had to unravel. Gradually I got accustomed to not having a home phone.

I rationalized that landlines are so 20th Century and most of the calls I get on the damn thing are from telemarketers anyway. Who needs it?

This is a familiar story with me. I don’t know how something works and instead of taking care of the problem, I adjust my life to the inconvenience until it becomes the norm.

And it’s not just with technology. I have an unfortunate habit of putting up barriers where none exist and this sounds like a good habit to break.

Every time I walked into my computer room I could feel the new phone staring at me with zombie eyes.

Finally, I’d had enough. I was going to call tech support, heavier than normal call volume be damned, and get my phone working.

I got connected with a young woman who ran me through a series of questions, which quickly determined that I was using a wire from my old phone and plugging it into the wrong socket.

I corrected these two errors, picked up the receiver, and nearly burst into tears when I heard that lovely dial tone singing back to me. It was just a simple adjustment, but to me it was like day Alexander Graham Bell hollered “Watson, I need you!”

Okay, so I’ll giving myself a split grade on this one. I’m disappointed that I let this situation go on for so long, but I’m happy that I finally took care of it.

Now I have to set up the voice mail and if I get any messages from Kelsey I’m not calling him back.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Counting all the Stars

I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan, but not this past weekend.

In fact, I had a series of fabulous encounters that had me absolutely reeling with joy.

It started on Friday when I was bouncing out of the Barnes & Noble at Union Square and spotted a gaggle of smartphones raised high in the air.

The store routinely hosts authors of every sort and I reckoned these people were jockeying to get a photo of some cable news blowhard or the latest celebrity chef, whose overpriced cook book would probably end up in the dollar bin by Thanksgiving.

Oh, get a load of these star-struck twits, I mentally sneered. They’re so pathetic.

I was due to meet a friend for lunch on 28th Street and the only reason I was in the store in the first place was to use the facilities, as the old kidneys ain’t what they used to be.

But I figured, what the hell? Let me at least find out which D-lister I’m snubbing.

“Say,” I asked a nearby employee. “What’s all the excitement about?”

“That’s Tony Bennett,” he said.

What? You mean Tony Bennett—as in “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Stranger in Paradise,” “Once Upon A Time” and God knows how many incredible hits?

You mean Tony Bennett, the man, the legend, the freaking deity?

Well, yes, actually. He was making an appearance to promote his latest album with Diana Krall and he was no more than 10 feet away from me.

I quickly whipped out my smartphone and joined the small crowd of intelligent, sophisticated people—how dare you call them twits?—and began clicking like a Western Union telegraph operator on Mother’s Day.

“I’m gonna die,” I wailed, “I’m gonna die!”

Juliet is the Sun

I didn’t die, but I came awfully close to keeling over. This man is an incredible 92 years old and he had this aura around him that you could almost touch.

As I was shooting my brains out, the beloved singer stepped up and hugged some lucky woman.

“Hey,” I whispered, “I need a hug from Tony Bennett, too!”

I hung around as long as I could before rolling uptown to meet my friend for lunch. But my star-gazing had only begun.

On Saturday my sister and I went into town again to attend the Irish Repertory Theatre’s annual block party. We’ve seen many of this company's productions and the block party is always fun.

Once again, I made a pitstop at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square. (Gosh, maybe someday I’ll actually buy something there.)

The place was celebrity-free on this day, which is good because I was perilously close to giving new meaning to the word “Riverdance.”

We were enjoying the music and speeches at the Irish Rep when we happened to look up and saw Bill Irwin, famed actor, clown, and comedian, whose lengthy resume includes appearing in the video for “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin.

Mr. Irwin will be doing a show at the Irish Rep called “Exploring the Works of Samuel Beckett,” and he performed a selection from that program.

“This is your second celebrity sighting,” my sister said.

Yes, but little did we know that we had one more to go.

This time, though, we saw a celebrity in the making in the form of Juliet, a beautiful six-year-girl who swept us off our collective feet with her fabulous dancing.

I thought I had left my heart in Barnes & Noble, but Juliet scooped it right up like a loose football and ran straight for the end zone.

Her dancing was flawless. She kept time with the music, created her own steps, and did not show the slightest bit of shyness. When one of the singers struck up a slow, bluesy number, Juliet effortlessly shifted to her own interpretive moves.

She appeared to be a natural performer. Her folks weren’t pushing her to entertain people, she wasn’t desperate for attention and I’m convinced she would have danced with the same exuberance if she’d been alone in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

My sister and I approached Juliet and her parents to let them know just how much we enjoyed her impromptu performance. And I’m going to keep an eye out for this kid because I’m sure we’re going to hear from her again.

I’ve decided I’m going to take this excellent weekend as a good omen. There’s no logic behind this, but I’m in transition right now and I need all the good news I can get.

I’m going to be positive, creative, and productive and I’m going to go forward and look all the good things in life.

As long as there’s a bathroom nearby, I’ll be fine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Where There is Darkness...

We need to be more like Kelsie.

Kelsie is a comfort dog I had the great fortune of meeting today during a 9/11 memorial service at St. Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Fulton Street.

Her handler, a very nice woman from the Tri-State Canine Response Team, told me that she and her canine colleagues respond to all kinds of emergencies, including the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

And they were at Ground Zero today, where they most definitely needed, even after all this time.

It’s been 17 years since I stood outside the Brook Brothers store across the street from the World Trade Center and watched smoke pouring out of the North Tower; 17 years since the second plane slammed into the South Tower moments later and we all ran, while the towers and the world as we knew it came crashing to the ground.

I think about the people I met on that day, like the elderly lady I helped to her feet after she collapsed in shock when the attack began.

I think about the Japanese businessman who spoke virtually no English and who was so stunned by what he had seen that I had to lead him around by the hand like a child.

I’m thinking about three young men who came into the basement of a nursing home on Water Street where I and many others had gone to escape the massive clouds of debris from the fallen towers that rolled through the streets—clouds that are still killing people to this very day.

One of the young men had been blinded by the dust and he had a hand on his friends’ shoulder, while holding his shirt over his damaged eyes. Where are those three companions today?

It is in Giving that We Receive

My father marked his 80th birthday on that terrible day. He left this world in 2007 but I’m thinking more and more about him lately and I’m happy to say that the good memories are outnumbering the bad ones.

I haven’t been in Manhattan on 9/11 for a few years now and while I can’t say it felt good to back, it did feel right and proper that I returned to this location instead of watching the memorial ceremony on television.

I got in the city early to take my boxing class and I took a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood while it was still dark and relatively free of people.

I found myself getting angrier and angrier as I thought about how we had learned nothing from the September 11 attacks.

I don’t like saying that, but when you look at how we have become so divided, so hateful toward one another since that day, it’s pretty hard to find any beams of light in all the darkness.

After class, I went back to the Brooks Brothers store to pray and give thanks and then I headed over to St. Paul’s for the ceremony.

We recited the Prayer of Saint Francis, where we asked the Lord to make us instruments of His peace, and then the reverend rang the Bell of Hope, a gift from London, at 8:46AM to mark the moment the first plane struck.

I consider the Prayer of St. Francis an oath, a sacred promise to God that we will put aside hatred and respond with love. And meeting Kelsie reinforced that belief.

I started getting teary-eyed while patting Kelsie’s head as she radiated a kind of goodness that puts humanity to shame.

We have to be more like Kelsie and the other comfort dogs, who give us so much and ask for so little in return. Maybe if we behaved more like them, we’d be less inclined to start wars, imprison children, and crash airplanes into office buildings.

Maybe these dogs should be teaching us old humans some new tricks.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Shift Change

Shift, shift, shift!

I went back to boxing class last week for the first time since my accident in December and it was special kind of magic.

I was thrilled to see Abby, my instructor and all my friends in the class, whom I haven’t seen in 9 months.

But it also felt weird being back in the gym after such a long absence, like I was an imposter or a trespasser.

Of course, the original prognosis said I’d be out of commission for 18 months, so I’m certainly grateful for that. And if I had fallen on my head, I wouldn’t be here at all.

I had gotten used to sleeping later on Tuesdays and Thursdays, instead of getting up before sunrise and slogging into the city.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to roll out of bed that early or that I’d keel over halfway through the warmup or that I’d reinjure myself and wind up flat on my back again.

For the last few months I’d been going for long walks in my neighborhood, lifting weights, hitting the bag at the gym and working out on the Stairmaster.

I was also going to weekly physical therapy sessions at NYU Langone’s facility on Shore Road. I was working with an excellent trainer and when we had our last session at the end of August I knew it was time to get back to boxing.

It was rough. After all that time off, my cardio had just about disappeared and this became excruciatingly apparent during my one-on-one mitt session with Abby.

Better, stronger, faster

I dreaded this portion of the class because I feel like everyone in the room is watching me.

The reality is that people are far too busy working out and worrying about their own time with Abby to give a rat’s ass about me, but I still felt like I was in the spotlight.

Of course, this being Abby, he had to break my chops while putting me through all kinds of misery.

“We can rebuild him,” he said, mimicking the opening of The Six Million Dollar Man. "It’s Bionic Rob…I’m gonna call you Steve Austin.”

I could tell he was taking it easy on me, but even so, he used the time wisely, forcing me to work on my boxing technique and getting the basics down so that I have them branded into my DNA.

“Extend your arm,” he said during the round. “Put your shoulder into it. Shift your weight—shift, shift, shift!”

Shifting was pretty hard, as my battered knees are still kind of creaky. But I really appreciated his insights. Abby is a former amateur champion, and the nephew of a one-time light-heavyweight world champion, so he definitely knows what he’s talking about.

And “shift” seems to be the operative word in my life right now. My professional life is currently in flux, people and places that have been a part of my life for years have suddenly disappeared.

It’s a scary time, but it’s also exciting. I’m looking to shake up my life—in a positive way, of course. Maybe these sudden shifts are God’s way of telling me to break out the routine and go confidently in the direction of my dreams, as Henry David Thoreau advised.

Steve Austin took some nasty hits and came back to be a hero. Bionic Rob is going to do the same.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Out of Wok

Now I’ll have to get my wonton soup someplace else.

My local Chinese restaurant, the Hot Wok, went out of business last week and yet I still have this urge to swing by and pick up an order.

The Hot Wok was my go-to place on many a Friday night, when I gave into the call of the comfort zone, got a vat on wonton soup and a mound of fortune cookies, before scurrying on home to watch the latest offering from Netflix. (Exciting life I lead, no?)

The Hot Wok is—was—located at 69th Street off Narrows Avenue, the middle store in a trio of businesses that I like to call “Bachelor’s Row,” starting with the pizzeria on the corner, the Wok, and then the deli, all lined up and waiting for the man who doesn’t feel like cooking.

I had noticed their gate was down and I prayed that they were just on vacation, but when I called them, I got the “number is no longer in service” message. A few days ago, one of the customers at the deli confirmed the awful truth: the Hot Wok was no more.

I’m still bummed about this, and not about just the food. The people were great and they were very nice to me. After my accident the owner—I’m sorry I never got her name—greeted me so warmly when I started walking around the neighborhood again.

And her daughter Vicky liked to break my chops whenever I came in. One night she put me through a spirited version of the why game, where she greeted all my responses to her questions with a “why?”

“What is your name?” she began.


“Why is your name Rob?”

“My parents liked the name.”

“Why did your parents like the name?”

That went on for 10 solid minutes of hilarious torture. By the time I got my order, Vicky was doubled over laughing at her own schtick, while I grabbed my soup and ran like hell.

Too Damn High

Vicky would often stick her tongue at me when I walked by, but I’d just take out my phone to get her picture and she’d quickly cease and desist.

And now the whole family is gone as if they never existed. They made no announcement and left no forwarding address.

The place served good food and it was always hopping on a Friday night. The phone would ring nonstop and the owner would take my order while handling the customer on the line.

I suspect the Hot Wok was done in by high rents, an on-going nightmare in New York that’s driving small business out of existence and filling this town with scores of empty storefronts.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio suggested slapping blood-sucking landlords with a vacancy tax if they keep their stores empty in hopes of scoring top dollar rents.

If something isn’t done, the city will lose its mom and pop stores and funky little businesses and all we’ll have left will be banks, chain stores, and fast food joints.

And speaking of rents, my great blogging buddy Ron had to pull the plug on his dream to move back to New York from Philadelphia because he can’t afford to live here.

I’m sure there are plenty of people scrubbing their plans to move here while long-tine residents are moving to places with cheaper rents.

The thing is we need local businesses like the Hot Wok and we need people like Ron to give this city character and color. We don’t need any more hedge fund managers, real estate tycoons, or Russian oligarchs buying up every inch of available space in New York.

And adding to all this confusion is the fact that my own situation is up in the air now and I’m looking a new direction. The Summer of 2018 is certainly ending on harsh note.

Last night I went to the Panda on Third Avenue to get an order of wonton soup. The people are very nice and the soup isn’t bad, but it’s a longer walk from my home and there’s no Vicky to tease me.

I’m just hoping these people can stay in business.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Peace with Goodwill

I wonder what Klaatu would think of us now.

I pulled up a beach chair in my local park Friday night and treated myself to a screening of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

I’d made certain earlier in the day that the folks at the Narrows Botanical Gardens were screening the 1951 original starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and not the 2008 atrocity with Keanu Reeves.

This was the last night of the summer movie festival and I was feeling kind of low. I hate winter with a passion and in my mind once we clear Labor Day, it’s a screaming hell-plunge into freezing days, 16-hour nights, and no outdoor anything.

So, this seemed like a fine way to start the summer send-off: a beautiful night, a great film, and a five-minute walk home.

Of course, you have to deal with traffic noise, winds ruffling the movie screen, and noisy kids running around and shrieking at each other, but the price was right, as my father used to say, meaning it was free.

Based on a short story “Farewell to the Master,” by Harry Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the tale of Klaatu, an alien who visits earth from another world on a mission of peace and is shot by panicky soldiers shortly after he steps out of his flying saucer.

Klaatu has come a long way to warn humanity to clean up its psychotic act or face annihilation. He’s accompanied by Gort, a monstrous robot that is capable of nuking entire planets. And Gort comes awfully close to wiping out the earth until Patricia Neal issues the famous command Klaatu barada nikto!

“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason,” Klaatu states at one point.

The Decision Rests with You

Substituting fear for reason? I can only imagine what Klaatu would think if he could see the current political situation. The world was a pretty crazy place in 1951, no doubt, but since then we have amped up fear dramatically while flushing reason straight down the crapper.

“I'm impatient with stupidity,” he declares.

Oy…we’re in worse shape than I thought.

The film has numerous messiah references. Our hero uses the alias Carpenter; he is killed and resurrected, and eventually ascends into the sky.

Interestingly, The Day the Earth Stood still came out in the same year as another one of my science fiction favorites, The Thing from Another World, which views aliens as bloodthirsty invaders to be destroyed, not as superior beings.

Before he leaves Klaatu advises humans to lay down its sword and shield.

“For our policemen, we created a race of robots,” he says. “Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us.”

Initially I thought it was bizarre that people would hand law enforcement duties over to machines, but then you look around and see so many people with their noses stuck in a smart phone.

Autonomous vehicles will be driving on our roads sooner than later and sex robots are apparently a thing. How long before we entrust robots with police work as well?

It sounds creepy, but it’s hard to believe that machines could do a worse job of maintaining order than we have. Whatever we do, we’d better get on it soon before Gort makes a return engagement.