Sunday, April 22, 2018

Spring Awakening

“Where have you been?”

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

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

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

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

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

“I’ll be back soon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Day in the Park

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll pray for you,” Mike said.

And I’ll pray for you.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Step On Up

It was like Rocky…only in slow motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going the Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Forgotten Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

She Said…What?

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

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

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

“I was provoked,” she would solemnly declare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Greatest Story

Seriously…that was Pat Boone?

In honor of Easter, Turner Classic Movies last night showed “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the 1965 epic biblical story that I saw way back in the fifth grade.

I was in Catholic school at the time and my teacher, Sister Joseph Goebbels, suggested we see the movie or we’d surely burn in Hell for all eternity with demons gnawing on our genitals…or at least that’s how I remember it.

The film had an all-star cast, of course, but the only actor I was interested in seeing was David McCallum as Judas Iscariot.

You young people out there may know him as cranky old Doctor Ducky from NCIS, but back then David McCallum portrayed the young Russian badass Illya Kuryakin in my favorite TV program of the moment, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a Bond-era spy show.

Each week I’d watch Illya and Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) take on the dirtbags from THRUSH, and so getting to see one of my heroes in a different role was a real thrill for me.

I did a little research about TGSET and I was shocked to see just how many stars were in this all-star extravaganza.

In addition to Illya Kuryakin, the picture featured Max Von Sydow as Jesus, Victor Buono, Richard Conte, Jose Ferrer, John Wayne, Sidney Poitier, Van Heflin, Charlton Heston, Martin Landau, Jamie Farr (Cpl. Klinger in “M.A.S.H.”), Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Claude Rains, Ed Wynn, Michael Ansara, Robert Blake, David Hedison, Robert Loggia, Shelley Winters, and, as the Angel at the Tomb, yes, ladies and gentleman, put your hands together and give it up for the one and only Mr. Pat Boone.

I had no idea all these big names were in this movie, but then I was just a youngster scarfing down popcorn and trying to avoid a rendezvous with Beelzebub.

And, I say this with love, but I despise Pat Boone—God forgive me. His singing, his politics, his face, his very existence irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.

I know we’ve gone through many years and several presidential administrations but I still feel like asking for my money back after putting up with that sanctimonious hump…adjusted for inflation, of course.

Who knew?

There are tons of intriguing factoids about this flick.

For instance, Telly Savalas shaved his head for his role as Pontius Pilate and he stayed with that look for the rest of his life, thus serving as an inspiration to a generation of hairless men, like yours truly.

And Savalas, Donald Pleasance, and Max Von Sydow would all go on to play the very same Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Bloefeld, in three different 007 flicks.

I have very few memories of this movie, but I do recall how Hollywood had to change the demise of Judas.

Instead of hanging himself, Illya Iscariot tossed himself into a flaming pit—and checked out rather quietly for a man who had just gotten a full-body hot foot.

I haven’t seen the movie since that first viewing and I didn’t watch it last night—God forgive me—and naturally when I woke up this morning I regretted that decision.

This is Easter, you’re supposed to get into the spirit of the season and this movie seems like a good way to do that.

And since I’m still pretty much housebound it’s more important than ever that I connect with my faith, seeing as how getting to church is a bit of a struggle.

Today I’ll be celebrating Easter at my sister’s house and it’ll be nice to see my loved ones outside of a hospital, which I had to do on Christmas Day.

We’ll eat, drink, tell stories and do our damnedest not to talk about Pat Boone. God forgive me.

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.