Sunday, February 17, 2019

Flight Distorter

I was looking through my journal this morning when an entry from December 21 caught my eye.

This was a Friday and I suspect it was a wonton soup night—one of those evenings when I just don’t want to face the world--as I had quoted a line from a fortune cookie.

There’s no boosting a man up the ladder unless he’s willing to climb,” it read.

It’s a good thought to keep in mind, especially now, since it complements a dream I had last night.

In this dream I had just booked a flight to Los Angeles when it occurred to me that I had used up most of my vacation days and would not be able to get the time off from work.

I started to panic, not believing that I had made such a bonehead mistake and wondering what the hell to do. Should I cancel my trip? Would the airline let me reschedule?

And it wasn’t clear if this was a vacation or if I was finally making good on my decades-old promise to move to LA.

I needed advice and my subconscious responding by summoning up my parents, who were alive and well in the dream, and more than willing to help.

My dad said it would be okay to cancel the flight and that I shouldn’t worry. I woke up a few moments later feeling rested and peaceful—at least for a little while.

Later in the day, however, it occurred to me that the dream seemed to validate some rather disappointing aspects of my character.

I have a habit of playing it safe, avoiding new things, and sticking to my schedule so aggressively that my routine starts to look like my religion.

Honestly, how many goddamn years have I talked about moving to Los Angeles?

I’m sick of the winter, I tell people over and over. I want to get into the entertainment business, I want to leave all my grief and bullshit behind and start a whole new life on the other side of the country.

Cookie Cutter

If I had a dollar for every blog post I wrote where I mentioned my desire to head for the coast I could probably buy my own airline and fly out to California whenever the hell I felt like it.

I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I don’t want to move to LA—or least some part of me is seriously resisting relocation even I as continue to run my mouth about getting out of New York.

And what’s more disturbing is that my father used to do the same thing.

For years he’d talked about how he was fed up with the East Coast, how life in California would be so much easier.

He had been stationed there while he was in the army and at least four of siblings lived in the Golden State. But, despite all his talking, he never got out there.

Now I’ve been making some changes in my life. Nothing as drastic moving to LA, but I have been getting out more as part of my “Hey 19” New Year project.

Last week I took a walking tour of Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, even though it was horribly cold, and just this Friday I went to an authors’ reading at the Community Book Store in Park Slope.

That was particularly satisfying because on most Friday nights I’m sitting in front of the TV watching Netflix and scarfing wonton soup and fortune cookies.

But this time I just went out the door at the appointed hour and had a very pleasant evening. Naturally these events don’t remotely compare to pulling up stakes and going 2,700 miles to a new home, but I think it shows I can step out of the routine when I choose to.

The last time I had Chinese food I got another intriguing fortune.

Life is a verb,” it said, getting right to the point.

Yes, it is. It’s not images on a TV screen or words coming out of your mouth. It’s action.

I’ve decided I’m going to stop talking about California. I’m not giving up on relocating, mind you, I’m just going to quit flapping my gums about it. If it ever does happen, I’ll tell the world.

But I’m not going to boost myself up the ladder until I’m willing to climb.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leap Year

I came down to earth on Thursday in the best way possible.

I was attending my boxing class and when Abby, our instructor, told us to start jumping up into the air.

This is part of the warmup and it builds up your legs and endurance while giving you a preview of the absolute hell that is to follow.

I was hopping up and down when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of my classmates, a very nice guy I’ve known for years, didn’t appear to be jumping all that high.

Gee, I thought, he’s not trying too hard, is he?

This is something I do much too often: judging or criticizing others when I should be minding my own business. And even though I keep my mouth shut, I don’t like making these snarky judgments of other people—especially people I like.

And then something strange happened: a voice that seemed to be coming from outside of my mind said, “why don’t you focus on your own jumping and forget about your buddy?”

It sounded like great advice, so that’s what I did, getting down lower and jumping up higher. I felt so much lighter after dropping that chip on my shoulder.

As part of my “Hey 19” New Year project, I’m trying to be happier and this includes shaking off these unhealthy attitudes.

Maybe my friend was having knee problems, or maybe he just wasn’t that good a jumper. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that is I caught myself in an old, unhealthy pattern, and broke out of it.

This last week has been full of these similar little bright spots that I’m trying to cultivate.

My TV started giving me grief one night last week, refusing to give me a picture no how matter what buttons I clicked on the remote.

I have a habit of freaking out when the machines in my life misbehave and I could feel my mind sliding into freak-out mode as the boob tube lived up to its name.

I Screen, You Screen

But then I pulled the plug—on both my television and my temper. Every time I’ve called my cable company in the past, they’ve told me to yank the plug out of the cable box, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in.

Nine out of 10 times this routine works, so I decided to get a jump on the game and unplug the cable box before calling for help.

Well, it turned out I didn’t need help. Once the cable box warmed up, I picked up the remote and got a normal picture—without trashing my blood pressure or taking an ax to my widescreen.

My most fabulous writing class resumed this week and I was having a good time until my classmates starting reading their work.

Once again, the snarky little voice cranked up, only this time instead of judging others, I was aiming the nasty at myself.

These people are really talented, the Snarkmeister said. You’re not as good as they are--not by a longshot.

Then my logical side stepped in to remind me that the reason I took this class in the first place was to become a better writer. So how else can you improve if you don’t work with talented people?

And my classmates are the most supportive, least judgmental people on the face of the earth.

Now I have a hell of a lot more to do if toning down my negative attitudes, but I’m very pleased with these small victories.

And I had one more this morning when I reached into my pocket for a pen and found that it was broken in half.

It was made of cheap plastic, so it was hardly a huge financial loss, but upon closer inspection, I saw that it wasn’t broken at all. The two main pieces had become unscrewed and a smaller piece had fallen to the floor.

I retrieved the fallen item, screwed the thing together and the pen was as a good as new. I jumped high without ever leaving the ground.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Oldies Night

I was sitting in a bar in Windsor Terrace Saturday night when Marvin Gaye told me I had to give it up.

As I sipped my wine, I had a flashback to the first time I heard Gaye’s hit.

I was a sophomore at Hunter College and on that particular day I was in a record store on Lexington Avenue, which I’m sure is long gone.

This funky song that I’d never heard came on the sound system. A guy near me walked up to the cashier and asked her what were we listening to.

“Got to Give it Up,” she said.

That was over 40 years ago and there I was hearing it again—along with a wonder list of such slick tunes as “Always Something There to Remind Me” and “Go Back, Jack, Do it Again.”

Usually when I walk into a bar I don’t begin to recognize any of the songs I’m hearing, but this seemed like my kind of place.

I was in the neighborhood to attend a reading by one of my writing class buddies and I had arrived a full hour early due to the rather embarrassing fact that I had not properly read the invitation.

But the wine was tasty, the music was solid, and the nostalgia was flowing freely.

Nostalgia has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently stumbled across a cable station called MeTV and it’s kind of freaking me out.

This station has resurrected so many old shows from my childhood I feel like I fell into a time warp. The list includes Have Gun Will Trouble, Wanted Dead or Alive, Night Gallery, The Wild, Wild West, Maverick, Wagon Train, Rawhide, and—a particular favorite—Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Keep on Dancin’

I keep promising myself that I’m going to cut down on my TV viewing, but nothing prepared me for this. It’s like a video version of that saloon’s sound system—it’s got all of these great hits from my younger days.

Now to be honest, some of these shows have not aged well and I think the word “classic” is bandied about too easily.

I recorded an episode of the private eye program Mannix and about the only interesting thing in this show was a brief appearance by Mark Lenard, the guy who played Mr. Spock’s father, and James B. Sikking, who was a regular on Hill Street Blues.

I loved this show back in high school, but then I liked disco and bell bottoms, too. And--brace yourself--the attitudes towards race and sex in many of these programs are somewhat dated.

Paladin, the hero of Have Gun Will Travel, has a Chinese servant named Hey Boy, as in “Hey, Boy” and his female replacement was named “Hey Girl,” as in, well, you get the idea.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about these old programs is seeing so many well-known actors in their younger days. George Kennedy appears in at least two episodes of Have Gun Will Travel, as does Robert Blake.

Warren Oates is in another episode, but never says a word, and the actor who plays his boss turned out to be Peter Falk, though it took me several minutes to identify that geeky guy with the glasses.

And I got a surprise while reading the credits of Kolchak when I saw the name David Chase—the writer who went on to create The Sopranos.

There are so many great shows on this channel that I could DVR the whole lineup.

But do I want to sit in front of the TV all weekend replaying old memories or do I want to go out and meet up with human beings—like my buddy who was reading from his novel just a few blocks from this bar?

I finished my wine, put on my coat and made for the door. As I was leaving, the Temptations started tempting me with the gem “Poppa Was A Rolling Stone,” which the kids in my high school mechanical drawing class used to sing—much to the annoyance of the teacher.

I could’ve stayed listen to this song and others like it, but like Marvin Gaye says, no more standin’ along the side wall.

Got to give it up.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Kick the Bucket

Now that was one serious game of kick the can.

In the climactic gun battle of Johnnie To’s 2006 gangster flick Exiled, a can of Red Bull is kicked high up into the air while about a dozen characters pull out guns and start shooting each other.

That bit of product placement hasn’t inspired me to buy this particular energy drink, but the film, which I rented from Netflix, has changed my attitude toward movie gun fights.

I’m fed up with them.

This may sound strange coming from me, since I’ve always enjoyed good action movies. Put on an exciting, intelligent crime film, western, or adventure movie and I’ll gladly pull up a seat.

Obviously, I’m concerned about the epidemic of mass shootings that’s drowning this country in blood. But, to mangle a phrase from my dear friends at the NRA, movies don’t kill people, guns kill people.

I’ve had a particular fondness for spaghetti westerns and Hong Kong actions films like John Woo’s The Killer. The gun battles are brilliantly choreographed and the action in these movies is so over the top, I reasoned, you really couldn’t connect them to the real world.

However, this week, after watching Exiled, I’m having a change of heart.

First of all, the film just wasn’t that good. The story was convoluted and tedious, while the wafer-thin characters are barely distinguishable from each other.

But what made matters worse was a series of blistering gun fights that make the experience of being shot to death look a night at the ballet.

Everyone except a newborn baby packs a gun in this movie and we’re treated to a slew of loving closeups of these weapons as the characters slam in ammunition clips, click off the safeties, and start blasting away.


It’s impossible for me to watch this film and others like it without thinking of all the very real killings going on outside my door.

In the last week, five women were shot to death by a deranged killer at a bank in Florida; three people, including an 83-year-old man, were gunned down near Penn State University; four people were shot to death in Georgia, and five more people were killed in Louisiana.

There was nothing “balletic” about these murders, there were no slow-motion gymnastics, and the blood spilled was all too real—as opposed to the gallons of red dye we see in the movies.

My father, a World War II veteran, would rage at movie gunfights where the hero is shot repeatedly but still takes out the bad guy.

I usually did an eyeroll and dismissed his complaints from my mind, but now I see that he was talking as someone who had actually seen people shot to death, so naturally ludicrous movie gun battles angered him.

Of course, Hong Kong movies aren’t the only one guilty of this. I recently re-watched Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. I’ve enjoyed the movie in the past, but I was feeling uneasy during this last viewing.

The film is marked by at least three major shootouts, with much of the action taking place in super, syrupy slow motion where it takes forever for the victims to fall to earth. I can only guess how many people die in the climax, but you could probably fill a cruise ship with all the corpses.

Okay, we get it, the characters have no place to go in this new, mechanized world. But I feel the filmmakers could’ve told the same story with half the body count and still have made their point.

Perhaps age plays is a factor in this as well. I've moved on from the days when I was entertained by nonstop violence. And I still enjoy old Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney films where people were killed in much smaller numbers by pistols and the occasional tommy gun.

By the time that can of Red Bull hits the deck in Exiled, it has a lot of company, as bullet-riddled hoodlums litter the floor. But unlike the victims of last week’s shootings, all those people in the movie got back up and went on with their lives.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Dialing In

How did I ever survive the rotary phone?

Was there really time when I put my index finger in a hole, dragged the wheel around seven times before I reached the party to whom I was speaking?

And did I actually use typewriters for many years—along with Liquid Paper and White Out? And how did I ever get by without a DVR and only a handful of TV channels?

I also remember when people smoked on airplanes—actually they smoked just about anywhere they wanted.

These and other pressing issues rolled through my head the other night after I attended a Meetup event in Manhattan. I’m trying to keep that New Year’s resolution about getting out more so I signed up for a group that sounded pretty cool and had a nice time.

I figured I’d be the oldest in the room, which is something I’m getting used to, but I did run into one other guy who seemed to be in my age bracket.

We were sitting at a table with a young man and this geezer kept up bringing up all the ancient equipment from my childhood.

“You don’t remember rotary phones, do you?” he asked our young companion. “Or typewriters?”

The younger fellow, of course, didn’t remember these things probably for the same reason I don’t remember buggy whips and spats—they were obsolete by the time I showed up.

It seems like our devices are becoming obsolete at a faster pace. Or maybe that’s me just feeling old. My niece, Victoria, likes to remind of the passing years whenever I speak with her.

Of course, I suppose I’m partially to blame for this as I do give her straight lines that she quickly turns into weapons of mass derision.

Wheat and See

During a Christmas Day phone call last month, she mentioned that she had cooked dinner for my brother and his wife.

“Hey,” I said, “the next time I come out to Denver, I want you to cook dinner for me.”

“Sure,” she replied in perfect smart-ass English. “I’ll have Cream of Wheat and prunes…”

Yes, Victoria knows how to press my buttons—or dial my number. She told that she may be in New York in late May and when I mentioned that my birthday occurs at that time of the year, she promptly got the date wrong.

“I would’ve hoped you had that memorized,” I said, mildly miffed.

“Maybe you got it wrong,” she said “You are getting on, you know.”

“Stop making wisecracks about my age!”

“I’m helping you transition to the next stage of life,” she explained.

“I’m gonna transition my foot to your ass in about two seconds, kid!”

All, I might’ve sounded a bit grumpy in my response, but as my mother used to say, “I was provoked!

At the end of the meetup I bid my companions a good night, checked my smart phone and saw that the X27 bus back to Brooklyn would be coming my way in 15 minutes.

On the ride home, I did some net surfing before heading up to my apartment to work on my home computer. We didn’t have this stuff back in my day, but I’m not going to give them up.

And now it’s time for some Cream of Wheat and prunes.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hey, Nineteen

I don’t like this.

The thought came to me this morning while I was washing the dishes.

My mind had been slogging through some negative territory—I honestly forget now what the hell was bugging me—and I suddenly realized just how uncomfortable I was feeling.

I didn’t like this state of mind and I told myself exactly that: I don’t like this.

It sounds like something a two-year-old says when you try to feed him vegetables. Four simple words, but they were enough to get me into the present moment and away from the hostile path I had chosen.

I believe this awareness is largely due to my meditation practice. I had a particularly relaxing experience this morning and I’m slowly seeing that peace of mind is more enjoyable than the internal turmoil I typically inflict upon myself.

The holidays are officially over and now the work on those New Year’s resolutions gets real. I want to be more positive, so I’m monitoring my thoughts more carefully because the bad intentions have a way of taking over before you know it.

I saw a recent sermon by Joel Osteen that has also been helpful. Yes, I know, he’s a televangelist, and these people can irate the ever-loving hell out of me, but I like this guy.

He’s a Christian with a positive, helpful message. After eight years of Catholic school, where the nuns and priests couldn’t wait to tell us what demonic little scumbags we all were, Joel Osteen is a welcome relief.

This particular message was based on the last words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished.”

Joel said that Jesus wasn’t just talking about His life. He was also talking about us, the people for whom He died.

Row, Row, Row Your Brain

All the guilt, shame, bad breaks, foolish decisions, all the crap that we use to torture ourselves with, well, it’s time to say goodbye and start living a happy life.

It is finished. A simple phrase--kind of like “I don’t like this.”

Of course, this is easier sermonized than said, but I’m okay with that. It’s a good direction to follow—as opposed to blundering around in the dark like I have been for so long.

I’ve been scouring YouTube lately for self-help messages to keep my spirits up and I came across the author Teal Swan, who discussed the idea of fragmentation in our personalities. We think of ourselves as one person, she said, but actually we’re made up of a whole bunch of people.

This means that even though we call our self by one name and therefore identify ourselves as being one unified thing, the reality is that we are more of an amalgamation of fragmented parts or selves,” she writes. “We are more like a mosaic or a stained-glass window. Our degree of internal suffering is about the degree of harmony (or lack thereof) between these internal selves.”

So, for example, while there’s a part of you that wants to go out for a night on the town, there’s also that part of you that wants to stay home with a bucket of wonton soup and the latest Netflix selection, the rest of humanity be damned.

I would like to get all these various versions of myself working together, like a coxswain on a rowing team.

In my bid to get out more, I decided on Friday night to see a selection of one-act plays at the Gallery Players, a Park Slope theater company I've been meaning to check out for years. As usual, my inner introvert started complaining about the cold weather and late hours.

I didn’t argue, I didn’t try to reason with this guy. I just got ready, went out the door, took a 20-minute train ride, and had a great time. No agonizing, no worries, and all the drama took place on the stage.

I like this.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Booming Bust

So, can event be an absolute bust and a smashing success all at the same time?

This may sound like the Kobayashi Maru training exercise from The Wrath of Khan, but I’m here to tell you that the answer to this musical question is yes, yes, and hell, yes.

I really want to socialize more in this new year, which, admittedly, is a promise that I make every January 1 when the horn blows at midnight.

This year, though, my various vows are being fortified by a pact I made with my sister where we promised to help each other keep our 2019 resolutions in a kind of Mutual Yenta Agreement.

I have to confess I’ve suffering from New Year’s Resolution Syndrome, a sense of creeping panic that comes over me when I see that I’m not accomplishing every single thing I said I would in the first three days of the year. It’s ridiculous, of course, but I reckon it’s a requirement of the resolution ritual.

Whenever I get the heebie jeebies my shoulders tend to tighten and bunch up somewhere north of my honker. So, in addition to watching my emotional reactions—anger, hostility, fear—I keep my eyes peeled lest my shoulders start reaching for the sky.

Now the first Friday of the year started off looking like a lot of other Fridays with yours truly ass-down on the couch with the remote in my hand.

I tried to get out of the house—honestly. A new Meet-Up group had scheduled an event in Sunset Park and I cheerfully clicked "Yes" that I would attend.

Shoulder to Shoulder

The location was listed as TBD—To Be Determined—but I had no doubt that the organizers would soon fill in that spot with an exact location in short order.

Only they didn’t. Friday afternoon rolled around and the blank spot was still blank—even blanker if that’s possible. I could hear my inner surrender monkey unfurling the white flag and reaching for the remote.

Finally, the organizer emailed me with the location, which was nearly 40 minutes away—if I caught the train on time. To hell with this, I thought, heading for the couch, I ain’t doing it. But the guilt was getting to me. I said I wanted to change and yet here I was settling for the same old same old. I finally called my sister for advice.

“Get in a cab and go,” she declared. “Call car service.”

That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but it was the answer I needed to hear.

I called for a car, zipped down to 36th Street to a neighborhood coffee shop and found…exactly two people attending this event. And one of them was organizer.

Apparently, everybody else was confused by that TBD business and decided to flag the entire thing.

Normally in a situation like this my shoulders would tighten, I’d roll my eyes and say woe is everything, but I’m trying to leave that attitude in the dust of 2018. I was already there, so I pulled up a seat and had a pleasant conversation for about 30 minutes.

It was such a strange experience. I was disappointed by the sparse turnout, of course, but I was so happy I had put the excuses aside and at least tried to change my routine.

It was like striking out and hitting a grand slam at the same time. Mr. Spock probably wouldn’t find this logical, but screw him. I'm just happy that my sister had yenta-ed me out the door to do something different.