Sunday, August 01, 2021

On the Beach

“This is a day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24

I stopped by my local thrift store this morning and got some great advice without paying a dime.

Most Sunday mornings I hit the gym and then bounce across the street to stock up on disposable masks and a few bottles of my favorite poison, better known as diet soda.

The store owner is a very friendly Middle Eastern gentleman who always makes me feel welcome.

We were chatting about how relatively cool the weather had been lately and I mentioned that it was supposed to rain today.

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “It rains, it’s sunny, whatever it is, you should thank God for the day.”

I paused for a moment. Yes, that’s exactly what you do. Instead of complaining or being miserable, you give thanks for being here to see the day.

His timing was particularly important because I was still smarting from some rather unhealthy behavior.

I had gone to Rockaway Beach on Saturday with one of my Meetup groups, something I had not done in over a year thanks to the Covid-19 nightmare.

It took a while for me to actually commit to going as I did my usual self-torture routine of trying to decide if I should go or not.

I had absolutely nothing else going on that day and I’ve had so little contact with humanity outside of my family, but no matter; I turned a a simple yes or no into this monumental decision.

Out to Sea

This is fear, of course, as the comfort zone wraps its tentacles around me and tries to convince me to stay home instead of doing something new.

I finally pressed the Yes button, got up early to catch the ferry from Sunset Park, and met up with some very nice people. I even took a dip in the ocean.

Sounds good, right?

Well, not really. At one point, when I was trying to relax on the beach, I started thinking about my mistakes and poor decisions.

I should’ve been celebrating my moment in the sun—literal and figurative--but I was being pulled away by an undertow of regret. I was 100 yards from the water and I was drowning.

I have spent a lot time focusing on my anger, but I’m starting to see that regret is one of the sneakiest of toxic emotions.

Anger is loud and explosive. It kicks the front door off its hinges and screams at you. But regret is a slow burning enemy that can slide through the cracks.

If rage if a five-alarm blaze, then regret is an electrical fire that burns behind the walls undetected, doing all sorts of damage.

I have a lot of anger management techniques—some of which I actually apply from time to time—but I have been far too lenient with regret.

Just because something doesn’t explode in your face doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you.

I found an article from Psychology Today that lists several techniques about moving on from regret.

One of them is to focus on gratitude, which is what my buddy at the thrift store was talking about this morning. It’s a good place to start.

I looked out my window a few minutes ago and saw that it was raining pretty heavily.

I made sure to thank God.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Beautiful Morning

I was preparing to leave my gym Friday morning when this middle-aged gentleman walked into the locker room.

“Good morning, sir,” he said with refreshing sincerity.

“Good morning,” I responded.

I got a good vibe coming from this man so I decided to keep the conversation going.

"Are you all done?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I just got here.”

“I just finished.”

“C’mon,” he said, “that’s not fair!”

I laughed and wished him a good workout.

“Have a beautiful day,” he said.

That was it. The entire encounter lasted less than a minute, yet I got such a boost out of talking with this man that I briefly forgot how tired I was.

It’s amazing how one good person can undo the damage of a dozen nitwits.

I decided that would indeed have a beautiful day and I promised myself that I would pass this gentleman’s kindness on to other people.

And then I went home and switched on the computer.

I had forgotten that the night before I had downloaded one of Apple’s seemingly endless system updates that render the computer useless for hours and apparently do very little else.

The downloads also have this unfortunate habit of wiping out the passwords of your most imported accounts, including email, social media, and, in my case, all the various work-related sites.

I struggled to recall my assorted passwords, while trying to do my job without going psycho.

But that didn’t work out so well, since the download apparently also clogged my system, so everything took forever to come up.

Locker Room Talk

I had similar situation in April when Bernie Madoff croaked and I had the same unhinged reaction, cursing and fuming and taking the whole situation very personally.

I couldn’t believe that I had started the day with such optimism and positive energy.

What the hell had happened to my beautiful day?

I was determined to get out of this rut. There was too much work to restart my computer during the morning, so as soon lunchtime rolled around, I shot the damn thing down and rebooted my day.

And it worked.

Okay, with that out of the way, it was on to the next bit of drama. I handle the market close every afternoon where I update the numbers and revise the headline of our main story.

On Fridays one of the copy editors does the weekly calculations of how the major exchanges performed and adds them to the story.

However, he’s on vacation now, which meant I had to figure this stuff out.

Fortunately, I planned ahead by asking my buddy to leave me instructions on how the hell to figure out the weekly results for the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

He wrote it all up and very kindly took me through a dry run on Thursday.

Still, I was worried.

It’s going to be too complicated, I fretted, I’m going to get it wrong, I thought. All the other news sites will have it out except ours.

But I didn’t want to give up. So, I printed out the editor’s directions and went through them step-by-step, adding this, subtracting that, dividing the whole mess and then moving the decimal point two places to the right.

And, son-of-a-bitch, I nailed it.

I checked my calculations against other business sites and they all matched up.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly split the atom or build a better mousetrap. But I did overcome one of my many limiting beliefs and now I’m anxious to take on some more.

After work I had dinner with my sister at a local restaurant and, after a brief shower, the clouds took off and we were treated to a lovely sunset.

It was a beautiful day after all.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Change Your Tune

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” ― Lucille Ball.

There was a time back in the Eighties when WPIX, a New York radio station, played nothing but love songs.

I'm not sure if there are any other types of popular songs, as love in one form or another seems to be theme in nearly every song I've ever hear.

Nevertheless, that was their schtick and the station went so far as to run a series of TV commercials featuring clay animation cherubs to reel in new listeners.

I didn’t much care for the format and those clay angels creeped me out, but the concept is coming back to me now as I look to get my mind in some kind of healthy condition.

I’ve heard for decades about the importance loving yourself and how you can never really be happy until you do.

It sounded great, but I could never could my head around it. Loving your family, your significant other, your dog—that all makes sense. But how do I go about loving me?

Now self-loathing I get without a hitch, and as a result, I’m quite quite good at it. But I've always viewed self-love as a form of narcissism.

I’ve spent enough time being forced to listen to a series of loud-mouth boors, including the one we recently kicked out of the White House. I don’t want to join the club.

Of course, this isn’t the case. Self-love is really self-care, where you do what you can to support your emotional and physical health.

However, while I can recognize the concept, I’m still having trouble applying to myself.

I’ve been YouTube-ing my way through a series of self-help videos recently and I came upon a recording by the spiritual teacher Teal Swan.

Her advice is simple: for one year you have to act as if you loved yourself.

She doesn’t expect you to immediately drop all your toxic thought patterns and adopt a whole new attitude.

You Don't Need Money, You Don't Need Fame

All she wants you to do is consider what it would be like if you did love yourself.

So, I’ve been trying it. When I feel negative thoughts coming on, I try to think, “if you loved yourself, you wouldn’t tear yourself down.”

You wouldn’t hang around people who don’t respect you. You’d choose to exercise and eat healthy foods. And you’d work on your goals and dreams.

I find the "as if" aspect helpful, as if I'm trying the idea on for size, rather than signing an ironclad contract.

It hasn't been easy, but that's hardly surprising.

Negative thoughts are constantly ricocheting around my skull and bad memories have a fast track into my consciousness, while my pleasant recollections are routinely MIA.

The long-term fix includes mindfulness, journaling, and therapy.

But I’ve also been employing a short-term method to stop the negative vibes before they get too powerful.

I play nothing but love songs on my mental juke box.

So, if I’m feeling hostile, I’ll crank out the Beatles’ hit “All You Need is Love.” If I’m feeling depressed, I’ll call up Rosemary Clooney singing Hank Williams’ classic “Half as Much.”

On Friday morning, when crummy ideas disrupted my morning meditation, I switched on Huey Lewis & the News singing “The Power of Love.”

The funny thing is, I didn’t particularly care for this song when it came out in 1985 on the soundtrack for Back to the Future, but now it’s an important part of my emotional arsenal.

This all sounds ridiculous, of course, but that’s the point. I want to confuse and distract all that hostile energy and music really does hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

There is no magic cure and it takes a variety of techniques and serious commitment to overhaul your brain. But I feel now at this stage of my life that I'm really committed to being happy—or at least, happier, something I’ve ignored for far too long.

WPIX dropped its love song-only format years ago, the station changed its call letters and it is now a sports channel.

No matter. I still have my own playlist and I’m giving my sneaky subconscious a direct order:

Don’t touch that dial.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Wing Man

I can’t believe I didn’t know this.

Last week, the filmmaker Richard Donner, director of such big budget spectacles as The Omen, Superman and Lethal Weapon, died at 91 years old.

I have to confess that I am not a particularly big fan of Donner’s movie work.

While there is no denying that his films were incredibly popular, I found several them to be rather noisy and uninteresting.

Like many of the older filmmakers, Donner got his start in television, directing episodes of such classics as Wanted: Dead or Alive, Have Gun Will Travel and Perry Mason.

I’ve been watching several of these shows lately on the MeTV channel and I’ve seen Donner’s name a few times, but I had no idea until I read his obituary that he directed what is arguably the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

C’mon, don’t sit there and tell me you don’t know what episode I’m talking about.

That’s the one from 1963 with a pre-Kirk William Shatner portraying a man recovering from a nervous breakdown looks out the window of a plane and sees a monster on the wing trying to pull apart the engine.

The plane is being battered by a brutal thunderstorm and, of course, nobody believes Shatner when he tells them about the gremlin outside his window.

I cannot begin to guess how many times I have seen this particular episode and it never grows old.

It is a claustrophobic masterpiece, especially if you’re afraid to fly like I am, and it holds up despite the passage of time and some rather cheesy special effects.

Richard Matheson, who wrote the story upon which the episode is based, said the monster looked like a panda, but it’s the scariest panda I’ve ever seen.

I’m shocked that I didn’t know Donner directed this show. Maybe I learned this fact years ago and it just slipped my mind, although that is not a particularly comforting thought either.

Now if Richard Donner had just filmed this one episode and quit the entertainment business, he’d still be a legend in my book.

But, luckily, he didn’t. In fact, just a year before The Twilight Zone, Donner directed one of my favorite episodes of The Rifleman.

Scare Tactics

Simply titled “Gunfire”--which pretty much describes every western ever made--the episode stars Lon Chaney Jr. as a six-gun psychopath who is awaiting transfer from the local jail to the prison in Yuma, Arizona where he is to be hanged.

Chaney, however, has other plans and the story takes on the feel of a mini-horror movie as our hero, Lucas McCain, and the town’s marshal, face off against a gang of unseen killers who strike from out of the darkness.

Casting the monster movie legend Chaney as the villain amps up the spookiness a hundredfold.

Another episode, “Outlaw Shoes,” does a take on the old amnesia story line, a favorite of far too many TV shows where a memory-deprived Lucas is mistaken for a vicious gunslinger.

A lynch mob quickly forms to mete out some rough injustice and as the bloodthirsty vigilantes drag Lucas toward the hangman’s noose, I’m almost certain that Donner uses a handheld camera to convey a sense of confusion and terror.

Handheld camera work may not sound like much now, but I don’t think you saw much of that in TV shows of the early Sixties.

Many years ago, one of the old New York revival houses—the Elgin, or the Carnegie Hall Cinema, I don’t recall which--hosted a series dedicated to the work of British filmmaker David Lean, who directed such beloved films as Great Expectations and Brief Encounter.

Entitled “Lean When He Was Lean,” the retrospective focused on the director’s earlier films, before he went on to helm such epics as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

The program’s organizers maintained that Lean did his best work when he had smaller budgets. I don’t know enough about Lean’s career to comment yea or nay, but I wonder if one could make a similar observation about Richard Donner.

I find his TV work—done on tight schedules with tighter money—to be more exciting and visually creating than any of his films that I’ve seen.

In fact, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was shot under even greater pressure than usual because of scheduling constraints, technical problems with the simulated storm, and a slew of special effects challenges.

Donner crammed three-days of filming into two and still came away with an unforgettable episode.

Thanks for that memory, Mr. Donner. And for so many others.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Unalienable Rights

I’ll wave no flags today.

Today is the Fourth of July, marking the day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence.

There will be the usual fireworks displays, barbecues, and all sorts of talk about freedom and liberty, but I’m not really feeling the Spirit of ’76 today-not when the country my father and so many others fought to offend is crumbling beneath our feet.

Last night I watched the New York Times special report about the January 6 insurrection where a mob of deranged Trump supporters tried to destroy the democratic process.

I’ve seen plenty of footage of that horrible day, but the Times report gets right into the heart of the disaster.

The attack was bad enough, of course, but Republicans are compounding that atrocity by refusing to approve a committee to investigate the incident—the same people, by the way, who held 10 investigations of the 2012 Benghazi attack—and are repeatedly downplaying the severity of the January 6 invasion.

There’s talk that the FBI was behind the assault, or that it wasn’t Trump's people defecating in the Capitol Building, but actually Black Lives Matter and Antifa supporters in disguise.

We even had one member of congress seriously suggest that the bloodthirsty mob that rampaged through the halls of government and assaulted police officers resembled a “normal tourist visit.”

That same congressman, by the way, was photographed helping to barricade the doors on the house chamber and cowering behind a security officer.

But wait, it gets worse.

The Big Lie

After Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in a free and fair election—sorry, Trumpers, but it’s true--Republican lawmakers have enacted new voting restrictions in at least 11 states to make sure we never had free and fair elections ever again.

They cite Trump’s “Stop the Steal” lie, and use phrases like “voter integrity” in an attempt to cover up their real purpose: preventing Democrats, particularly those of color, from voting.

Things have gotten so bad that it is now illegal in Georgia to hand out food or water to people standing in line to vote.

Yes, this is actually a law on the books in the United States of America. What do you think the Founding Fathers would have to say about that?

I know what my father, a World War II veteran who fought to defend this country would say: Go fuck yourself.

A few days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s voting restrictions and pretty much gutted most of what remains of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Arizona Republicans have stripped the secretary of state's office — currently held by a Democrat — of the right to defend the state's election laws in court, or choose not to, a change enacted as part of Arizona's newly signed budget.

It appears that some truths are not self-evident. I never thought I would see voting rights under systematic attack in 21st Century America, but clearly, I was wrong.

And please don’t hand me that “both sides do it” bullshit. Only one political party in America is hellbent on destroying the electoral process.

I’ve had serious conversations with my siblings about moving to another country.

I don’t want to leave America, but America is clearly leaving me.

The right to vote is the building block of any democracy and it’s being taken away from us.

And all the flag-waving and fireworks in the world isn’t going to change that.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

‘Permanently Closed’

And, so, another local landmark is gone.

My sister and I passed by O’Sullivan’s Bar & Grill in Bay Ridge last night during our after-dinner walk and saw nothing but darkness.

There were no lights shining from this old Irish saloon that the O’Sullivan family took over in 1934.

There were no customers outside taking a cigarette break on Third Avenue; no voices, music or laughter emenating from the corner business on 89th Street.

A dark bar on a Saturday night only means one thing, but I didn’t want to accept the grim reality.

I had to walk up to the front door, grab hold of the handle and pull back. But the place was locked up tight.

This morning I jumped on the Internet in hopes of learning that the owners were on vacation, or that they were renovating the place and would be reopening in grand style any day now.

But the bar’s Yelp page was branded with two grisly words at the top: “Permanently Closed.”

I’ve been searching around local message boards for any indication as to why the bar went under, although I suspect this place was yet another casualty of the Covid-19 shutdown.

New York may be emerging from the pandemic nightmare, but we’ve lost a lot of people and businesses in the return to something that resembles normalcy.

Signs reading “Closed” and “Store for Rent” are painfully common sights.

My personal connection to O’Sullivan’s is distant, but there was a time when I was something of a regular.

Back in the Eighties, I used to work at a weekly newspaper a few blocks down the place and one of our freelance photographers was this wonderful man named Artie.

Artie was a big, powerful Irishman, who was both a former Marine and a retired cop, and O’Sullivan’s was his local watering hole.

Whenever he and I finished covering a story, he would proudly sing out “O-Sull-i-van’s!”, point his car toward Happy Hour, and off we’d go for some serious drinking.

I was younger, of course, and looking back I’m quite relieved that I made the drive home without having an accident or getting busted for DUI.

Artie had scores of great stories to tell about his time in the NYPD and I couldn’t get enough of them.

Shake It Up

He once showed me New York Times clipping from the early Sixties when he and some other officers have saved a rookie from a mob of angry drunks.

The young cop’s nightstick was broken in two during the fracas and there was a photo of Artie—trimmer and in uniform—holding the shattered club.

Artie also shared some details that didn’t appear in the Times story, like what happened to the suspects when the police got them back to the station house.

Let’s just say it was a different era with a different attitude toward policework.

And he had connections within the department, so I got to meet people and hear details about incidents that were not being released to the media.

I couldn’t print them, but I loved having that inside knowledge.

Artie was just a great guy who so supportive of me at a time was I terribly unhappy and unsure of myself.

“You’re good,” he’d tell me over and over. “I mean it, you’re good!

One time we were at event at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park where then-Mayor Ed Koch was appearing,and naturally all the big-time local TV and newspaper reporters were there.

I didn’t say anything, but I was somewhat intimated by all the heavyweight talent circling around me.

Artie, being a good cop, immediately picked up on my fears.

“Hey,” he said, “you’re just as good as these humps.”

I laughed, calmed down, and got my story.

Every time we parted company outside O’Sullivan’s, Artie would do a mock spit shake, where he pretended to spit in his palm and then held out his hand.

The Urban dictionary says the spit shake is “only to be used for the most sacred of handshakes.”

Scared indeed, and only now I am truly appreciating what a great friend Artie was.

I moved to Pennsylvania in 1988 to work at the Pocono Record.

I’m tempted to say I lost contact with Artie, but the truth is that once again, I failed to keep in touch with a good friend.

This is yet another form of self-sabotage which I am looking to eliminate from my life.

Good people are hard to come by, so we have to keep them close for as long as we can.

I was in O’Sullivan’s a few years ago with a local Meet-up group. It seemed so different from the place I frequented back in the Eighties, when Artie and I guzzled beers together.

And now that the lights have gone out for the last time, I really feel Artie’s loss.

This afternoon I called a friend whom I hadn’t spoken with for a long time.

He’d been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he told me he was taking it one day at a time.

I told him that I loved him and I promised myself I would call him regularly until the day he stops answering the phone.

And the next time I see him, I’ll make sure to give him a spit shake.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

‘Life is Changed, Not Ended’

My father once gave me a great piece of advice when I was facing a difficult task.

“Better behind you than in front of you,” he said.

That little saying has been so helpful to me over the years and I will always grateful to my father for passing it along.

So, it seemed appropriate that on this Father’s Day weekend, I should take on a chore I've had in front of me for an honest-to-God decade.

I decided that I was going to clean out…the Box.

The Box is this cardboard monstrosity brimming with all sorts of random stuff—books, paper, and a lot of extension cords, for some reason--that has been festering in a corner of my computer room ever since I moved here 10 years ago.

The thing was supposed to be a temporary fix, just a way of transporting a lot of loose items out of my old address.

My plan was to quickly review and properly sort all of the Box’s contents as soon as I got settled in my new digs.

That was in 2011.

Every weekend I would tell myself, this is it, I can’t look at that four-sided millstone any longer; I’m cleaning that bastard out and giving it a hostile heave-ho.

And every weekend, I didn’t.

Strangely enough, the COVID-19 pandemic helped push me into action. It wasn’t so much the additional time on my hands due to the quarantine as it was the societal shift to online video.

I’ve been attending my most beloved writing class via Zoom for over a year now and I quickly realized that Box was no longer just an atrocity in my life. It had now gone public.

I’d be reading my work or listening to my classmates and I’d see the corrugated paper putz looming over my shoulder like a wingless vulture.

Taunting me, mocking me, flipping me a phantom finger.

In addition to the shame factor, I was also fresh out of excuses.

I had absolutely no plans this weekend and the weather report for Saturday bit the big one.

“…Against the Armed Enemy…”

The time was now. The Box had to be destroyed.

This turned out to be a real chore, both physically and emotionally. I found all sorts of random papers, including several birthday and holiday cards from my parents that brought tears to my eyes.

It’s incredible how these little Hallmark ditties take on an entirely new meaning when the people who sent them to you are no longer around.

I found some of my mother’s ceramic works, including her Little Girl with The Curl sculpture that now has a place on honor on my kitchen table.

But I made one of the most amazing discoveries inside a simple manila folder. They were just three sheets of paper, but they had so much to say.

Two were citations from the U.S. Army. One noted the Bronze Star my father had received “for meritorious achievement in ground combat”; and the other marks the Purple Heart my dad had won for wounds suffered in action on November 3, 1944.

And the third piece of paper was the program for my father’s funeral on January 11, 2007.

I looked at those two dates and thought all the things that had happened between them.

My father returned from the war, reentered society, got a job as a salesman, met and married and my mother and raised four children.

The funeral mass program includes the quote, “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended.”

I like the sound of that.

The computer room clean-up is far from over, but I feel like I’ve made tremendous progress.

The Box is now history, torn to shreds and bound by cord, its mortal remains are sitting outside my door waiting for the sanitation workers on Tuesday.

I’m going to get proper frames for my father’s citations and a good plastic covering for the funeral program.

And I want to take care of this as soon as possible.

Like my father said, better behind me than in front of me.