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.