Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fish Story

Okay, I admit it: I actually enjoyed “The Shape of Water.”

This may sound like an admission of defeat, but I am happy to wave the white flag and confess that while I was all set to thoroughly detest Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning film—and write a vicious post about it—the director’s incredible vision triumphed over his soggy storyline.

I’ve been a huge del Toro fan ever since I saw “Cronos” in 1993 and “Pan’s Labyrinth” was so beautiful I was sobbing in the theater while the credits rolled.

This probably explains why the people in my row were filing out so quickly, but I was too busy wiping the tears away to pay much attention to them.

Lately, however, I’ve been quite disappointed with del Toro’s work. I thought “Crimson Peak” was a half-hearted hack job and his television show “The Strain” was so appropriately named that it hurt. It was indeed a strain to watch that dog and I eventually threw in the remote.

The coming attractions for the “The Shape of Water” didn’t cheer me up in the least.

So, some mute toilet cleaner in the 1960s gets jiggy with the Creature from the Black Lagoon and I’m supposed to give a shit? Hey, lady, I’m sorry you’re lonely, but can’t you hold out for someone who doesn’t have gills?

I was starting to wonder if “Pan’s Labyrinth” was a fluke—and not the fishy kind.

So when I cranked up the DVD player on Friday night I had attitude to spare and a chip on my shoulder the size of the Great Barrier Reef. I was going to whale the screaming bejesus out of this flabby fish tale and flush it straight back to the swampy cesspool from whence it came.

And then I fell in love.

Current Affair

True, the story is predictable, moth-ridden and more than little creepy, but I was completely won over by del Toro’s beautiful directing style.

Sally Hawkins brilliantly portrays Elisa, the nonverbal heroine who lives over a movie theater and who, along with Octavia Spencer, mops up a super-secret government laboratory in JFK-era Baltimore. It’s there that she meets and falls for an amphibious man-like creature that a sadistic government agent, portrayed by Michael Shannon, is eager to slice and dice.

So, we get a seafood salad of “Beauty and the Beast,” “E.T.”, and “Splash.” Yet del Toro resuscitates this tired material with such vigor he could give Dr. Frankenstein a lesson in reanimation.

The story has plot holes so big Moby Dick could swim through them with his eyes closed.

One of the many problems I had with the movie was the fact that even though this watery critter is supposed to be top secret government property, the cleaning lady is somehow able to visit him just about any time she wants.

I’ve been to aquariums with tighter security.

But I’m okay with that, too. I honestly think the real love story here is del Toro’s passion for the movies. The theater downstairs provides a sound track to Eliza’s life and gives her a voice in a beautifully staged and rather bizarre fantasy sequence.

I can’t say if “The Shape of Water” deserved the Academy Award, but “Pan’s Labyrinth” sure as hell did, so if the Oscar crowd was a little late in recognizing del Toro’s talents, they’ve finally redeemed themselves.

I grew up hearing the phrase “movie magic” and I guess that’s what we have here--a cinematic sleight of hand that tricks us so masterfully we don’t mind if we’ve seen it all before.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Crack that Whip

I used to work with a guy who had a healthy attitude about tax time.

“I’m going home to do my taxes,” he told me one evening, “so if I get struck by a bolt of lightning, you’ll know why.”

I could use a little bit of humor now.

I’m slowly getting my tax papers together, so I can shoot them over to my accountant before an Internal Revenue SWAT team kicks in my door and hauls me off to Gitmo. Or wherever the hell they take (relatively) honest mathematically-challenged Americans.

I’ve never been good with numbers, especially when it involves the government, potential prison time, and righteous streaks of lightning.

Keeping track of bills and receipts is also another financial blind spot for me. Do you seriously expect me to hold on to a piece of paper from last February?

And, as spring follows winter, I make my annual oath that this will never, absolutely never happen again; that I will keep track of every single tax-related expenditure and hand my CPA a coherent presentation of my fiscal status…as opposed to sending him a bucket of “maybes” while cowering in the closet and listening for the sound of government helicopters.

Now all this tax talk reminds of a little incident that occurred at my gym one Sunday afternoon many years ago. Given my current physical condition, memories of the gym are all I have. (Cue sad music.)

I had just finished a particularly grueling boxing class and I struck up a conversation with an attractive woman who had also suffered through the same workout. I noticed she had a pixie tattooed on her arm, which I, shallow male animal that I am, thought was kind of cool.

The career question is one way of keeping up the talk, so I asked this young lady what she did for a living.

Deduct This!

“Oh, I’m a dominatrix,” she replied.

I thought I was hearing things, but I knew I hadn’t. This woman just told me that she was a dominatrix.

It was just the way she said it so casually. Like I’m a lawyer or an accountant, as opposed to someone who gets paid to put her customers through the sexual ringer.

Of course, I’m not really sure if there's a proper way of revealing this bit of intelligence, but I could’ve used a little bit of a warm-up before hearing the truth.

I tried, I honestly tried to pretend I wasn’t stunned by her response. This is New York, nothing shocks me. Dominatrix, alligator wrestler, professional sword swallower, yeah, sure, that’s great—do you have a dental plan?

We had actually moved away from the topic of jobs when my veneer of nonchalance fell by the wayside and I just had to know the whole story.

“So, tell me,” I said, desperately trying to sound slick, “What do you put on your W-2 form where it says ‘Occupation’?”

“I put ‘freelance worker.’”

That seemed logical enough and, hell, if it’s accurate then Uncle Sam should be satisfied. And God help him if he isn’t.

Then I took a closer look at that pixie tattoo and I saw that in lieu of a magic wand this little fairy was holding a cat o’ nine tails. You’d better clap for this Tinkerbell, or else.

There comes a time in every man’s life when you just have to say, “whoops, I think I hear my mama calling,” and make for the exit. And this definitely seemed like one of those times.

I wasn’t rude but the conversation faded shortly after my classmate’s revelation and I went home wondering just what the hell had just happened.

Now I swear on my tax returns that I’m not judging anyone. Whatever turns you on, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else is fine. If anyone is at fault here, it’s yours truly for freaking out so easily.

It’s just that after all those years with the nuns in Catholic school I don’t feel the need for any more humiliation. But do give me your business card just in case.

I still have to get a few more of my tax papers together and I’m going to work to make sure everything is aboveboard so I don’t get nuked by a bolt from above.

And if I hear any pixies knocking on my door I’m heading straight for the closet.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dude Descending a Staircase

I stood on the landing outside my apartment and got ready for my big moment.

I was pretty nervous even though Ayman, my physical therapist, was standing right in front of me, ready to spring into action should anything go wrong.

This was an important step for me, literally and figuratively.

I was about to walk down a flight of stairs.

Last week I ditched the leg braces and now I was going to walk down from my third-floor apartment to the first floor by just…walking.

I wasn't going to rely on the stiff-legged sideways crab climb that I've been doing since December. No, I was going to use my poor battered knees to carry me up and down.

I can't begin to calculate how many times I've been up and down these stairs in the years I've lived here. I never counted the steps, I never really paid attention to what I was doing because walking up those stairs was effortless. Until it wasn't.

But in my current condition, the stairs looked like as scary as Mount Everest during a Yeti convention and I suddenly appreciated Jimmy Stewart's predicament in Vertigo. Only Kim Novak was nowhere to be seen.

Naturally I was overjoyed that I was going to be getting out of my apartment, if only to get to the front door. I'm very grateful for the progress I've been making, but I think the long recovery period is getting to me. I feel fat and fragile and I've been even crankier than normal.

I couldn't help but think about all the years I've been running, boxing, and lifting weights and now the biggest challenge in my life was this formerly routine act.

Walk Dem Golden Stairs

I recalled the good old days when I could fly up a flight of stairs two at a time without a second thought. At the gym I'd get on the Stairmaster and climb the approximate height of the Eiffel Tower or higher. But not today, mon ami…

Now I was going to take it one step at a time and focus carefully on every single one of them. This was a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, to stay present and pay attention to what I'm doing in the here and now.

I felt so awkward taking those first downward steps and it seemed like I was going to topple over with each move.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And so does a walk down the stairs.

"Take your time," Ayman told me.

No argument there. My two-stairs-at-a-time days are way behind me-perhaps forever.

We reached the bottom of the stairs and I was tempted to drop Neil Armstrong's "one small step for man" line because it was definitely a giant leap for me. And now it was time to reverse my steps.

It turned out that climbing up the stairs was much easier than going down. I guess not having to look down is a plus.

Ayman wants me to do this every day until I become a stair master. This was our last session together and this week I'm scheduled to begin my outpatient treatment. I feel indebted to this man, who took me through a dark period of my life. I'm going to miss his regular visits and his positive attitude.

"One day this will all be a memory," he said, during a particularly dark day.

Yes, it will. And now it's time for the next step.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Walk Cycle

I stood under the shower for so long on Saturday morning I wasn't sure if I'd ever come out.

My doctor told me last week that I don't have to wear my leg braces around the house anymore.

I've been taking full body washes in front of the sink since December, which really don't cut the mustard when it comes to coming clean.

I know it's wrong to waste water, but after feeling that heavenly H2O raining down on me after all those sponge baths, I just didn't want it to end.

In sports, being sent to the showers means you're being yanked off the field, but I felt like I was slowly returning to the game.

So, after three months of clunking around like the Tin Man in my Velcro leg irons, I can now stand on my own two feet-literally. No more wrapping and unwrapping my legs every time I have to do my morning stretch routine. I'm free.

It still feels strange, walking around without artificial support. My legs are still so thin that I was afraid they wouldn't be able to hold me up. But they can.

I walk slowly, that's for damn sure, nothing like the speed-racing pace I used to crank out when I went to the store…or the subway…or the bathroom. No, I'm taking the slow ride.

My physical therapist Ayman, has been visiting me at home for the last few weeks.

When the insurance company first approved a PT guy, I was expecting a musclebound young dude who would drill sergeant me into a frenzy, but this soft-spoken Egyptian man is gently pushing me to levels I never thought I could reach.

It hurts like hell, but I'm Catholic so it's all good. Or all bad. It's hard to tell.

Walk on By

He stopped by my apartment on Friday night after battling through the hideous nor'easter that had snarled traffic down to motionless misery. I wouldn't have blamed him if he had scrubbed our session, but he came through.

"You're walking like you still have the braces on," Ayman said, as I lumbered across the living room floor. "You have to bend your knees."

That felt a little scary after all the immobility. But I listened as he took me through the walk cycle, a seemingly simple act that I'd never appreciated until I had it taken from me.

I'm learning how to walk all over again. I feel like my parents should be here taking my picture and cheering me on.
I've spoken about the importance of gratitude and that's what I'm feeling now.

When I went to see my doctor this week, I waited in the hallway of my building for my sister to pick me up.

There's an image of Jesus on the door and I was so nervous I put my hand on the picture and prayed for good health and a speedy recovery.

But as I held my hand on that picture, I became calm and I thought about the people who are really suffering in this world, like the families of the shooting victims in Florida. And I went from being fearful to being thankful.

I have to wear the leg braces when I leave my apartment, so I'm still pretty much housebound. And after my sessions with Ayman run out, I'll have to continue the physical therapy as an outpatient.

I've got a long road ahead of me, but at least I'm not wearing those awful braces. Now it's time for a shower.