Sunday, August 19, 2018

52 Minutes

Okay, I probably could’ve handled that a little better.

Last week I got the bill for the double knee surgery I had back in December and since I had switched insurance companies in the interim, I figured I should touch base with the old outfit to see what was going on.

The price tag is sizeable to say the least and I wanted to know what was going on before bill collecting commandos kicked my door its hinges.

So, I called my old insurance company and what followed was a nearly hour-long waking nightmare that would’ve scared the screaming Jesus out of Rod Serling himself.

The experience left me shaken, exhausted, barely able to speak, and perilously close to insanity.

And I’m not exaggerating about the time: my cell phone clearly showed that 52 holy-shit-on-a-shingle minutes had burned up during the course of this telephonic fiasco.

This was the same week I reconnected on Facebook with a novelty song from 1966 called “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” which turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for this horrible experience.

I knew I’d be bounced around a little bit at the outset and, sure enough, the first lady I spoke with once I got through the robo-voice said she had to switch me to another department—and promptly hung up me.

I angrily hit the redial button and then the torture began in earnest. I was shuffled, shoved and shunted from one incompetent imbecile to another.

At one point the horror show veered off into Stephen King country when one of these losers apparently had her headphones switched off.

“Is anyone there?” she asked repeatedly.

“I’m here!” I shrieked at my smartphone. “I’m here!

I couldn’t bear the thought of being cut off again, of having to redo the whole hideous process, and I wailed into my palm like a champion hog caller.

Where Life is Beautiful All the Time

Finally, this genius got her phone to work and promptly told me to stop shouting.

Ah, but the shouting was just beginning. This woman had mastered neither her job nor the English language and after a few minutes I started to wonder if waterboarding could be all that bad.

Now I’m not some xenophobic knuckle-dragger with a slobbering hatred for foreigners. These people were hired because corporations want to save money by not hiring American workers—savings, by the way, that we consumers never see.

But if you are going to take the road to Bali with your customer service department, the least you could do is staff it with people who can speak and understand English.

“I can’t understand you,” I told this woman. “Please put your supervisor on the phone.”

I was convinced she was going to hang up on me, but moments later a man—an American man—picked up the phone and proceeded to help me out.

He was courteous, helpful, and knowledgeable—the exact opposite of everyone else I had spoken with that day.

I was relieved, but also angry. Where the hell had he been for the last 50-odd minutes? It seems like they kept him in a glass case and broke it open only when lunatics like me called up and lost their shit.

I felt like some medieval invader fighting my way into a castle only to learn that the dude standing next to me had the key to the front door the whole time. Gadzooks and go fuck yourself, my liege.

But the biggest problem here was yours truly. Once again, I let the anger and rage take over; once again I wasted my time, energy, and health trying to berserk my way through a problem that required patience and intelligence.

I keep saying I’m going to change my evil ways and yet here I am writing another post about my latest implosion.

Of course, many alcoholics and addicts slide back into their destructive behavior and they do what they can to get back on solid ground. I’m going to treat this like a temporary setback and resume my anger management routines.

I have to do something constructive or one of these days someone will be coming to take me away.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Flying High

You think I would’ve learned my lesson with John Ford.

Several years ago, I rented "How Green Was My Valley" from Netflix because I thought it was time I finally caught up with Ford’s 1941 classic about a family of Welsh miners in the early 20th Century.

I had seen so much of Ford’s work that it seemed wrong to have this one slip by for so long.

But I confess that I wasn’t feeling terribly excited. Yes, it was supposed to be a great movie, but I thought it might be stuffy and dated. And what the hell did I know from Welsh coal miners anyway?

I was responding to this film with all the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist.

Well, when I finally sat down to watch the thing, I was sobbing so hard that I was nearly dehydrated by the time the credits rolled. The setting may have nothing to do with my life, but the characters and the emotions grabbed hold of me like few films ever have in my life.

I strongly suspect this is the reason why it’s called a classic.

Now I’ve had a Russian film called “The Cranes are Flying” on my Netflix hit list for ages.

Again, I had heard great things about it, but I thought it might be dreary and depressing and I allowed myself to get sidelined by the latest hot movie or TV series, while the cranes kept flying further south down the list.

Finally, I decided I needed to watch something with some gray matter. I had been burned too many times by positively-reviewed action crapfests that offered nothing beyond mindless violence and deafening special effects.

The people responsible for these atrocities weren’t even trying to make sense. They were just throwing junk on the screen and hoping audiences lapped it up.

Hidden Tears

Enough, already, I declared, let me sink my eyeballs into a real film. So, I moved Mikhail Kalatozov’s World War II saga up to the Number One spot and five minutes in, I knew I had struck gold.

Made in 1957—the year I was born—“The Cranes Are Flying” tells the story of Veronika and Boris, a pair of young Russian lovers whose lives are torn apart by Germany’s surprise invasion in 1941.

Kalatozov is a visual genius, composing beautiful deep-focus shots that take us right into the story.

“The Cranes Are Flying” is among the “"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," and it’s also a favorite of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola—and it’s easy to see why.

Be warned there are no superheroes, wookies, droids, or CGI. There is only a powerful story told with bold, unforgettable images.

According to, the film caused quite a stir in the Soviet Union because of its depiction of such issues as draft dodging and war profiteering—a sharp contrast to the propaganda bilge that people had been accustomed to watching.

“The Cranes Are Flying” has also renewed my interest in making my own film. I’ve running my yap since the Middle Ages about how I want to make my own film.

Perhaps this experience will be what I need to get me up off my ass and out into the world.

And I’m also wondering what other classics I’ve got buried on my Netflix list.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

One Summer Night

Saturday night went so well even the R train cooperated.

Residents of Bay Ridge and the surrounding areas know all too well the misery associated with the Broadway local that chugs through our fair neighborhood…whenever the hell it feels like it, apparently.

In fact, the R train and its express associate, the N train, are often referred to as the Rarely and the Never ‘round the parts.

But last night the little engine that wouldn’t came through big time to put the finishing touch on an awesome save as I abruptly flipped the bird to the comfort zone.

Now my weekend started off nicely on Friday when I met two of my writing class buddies in Park Slope for an evening of food, drink, and yakking. We had talked about meeting up and, following the advice of sister and auntie, I took the lead in making the thing happen.

Saturday’s weather report had initially called for rain most of the day, so I decided to skip making any serious plans to focus on a slew of household chores that I have been putting off since the Johnson Administration.

But in turns out you really don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows—or when the rain falls, because after a heavy morning storm, the clouds took a hike, the sun came out and the temperature rose.

And I was all lit up with no place to go.

What followed was a rather depressing exercise in denial. A Brooklyn filmmaking group was having an event in a bar in Williamsburg, but I managed to talk myself out of going because it’s a pain to get there, I didn’t want to come home late on the subway, and I don’t know the people running the thing, and blah, blah, bullshit.

My next tactic was to get dinner and watch an old movie I had recorded a while ago but suddenly just had to watch right now. Naturally by the time that was done, it was too damn late to go to Williamsburg.

Under the Moon of Love

Step three was self-abuse. I proceeded to berate myself for being a procrastinator and a hopeless loser who’ll never change. This tactic is particularly insidious because it gives the illusion of motivation, but actually uses self-loathing to dig myself even deeper into a hole.

Finally, I pretty much evicted myself from my own home. I was not going to sit in front of the TV on a fabulous summer night—that’s what February is for.

The Brooklyn Museum has a First Saturday event every month and while I didn’t want to go, I pointed my butt to the subway and rode downtown—whining and complaining the whole way about the trains and the noise and the freaks hanging around me.

I kept on bellyaching as I got off at the museum stop and walked up the subway stairs.

And then I saw people—living, breathing people, not images on a TV screen—laughing, singing, and hanging out. The museum had a Caribbean theme and they had a steel drum band with people walking around in all kinds of wild costumes.

I had a nice chat with a cigar-smoking lady near the museum entrance, but other than that I didn’t interact with people all that much. And I was fine with that.

I was amongst humans and that was good, as opposed to being sequestered in my living room in front of the widescreen.

I was alone, I suppose, but I wasn’t isolated, and the distinction is important. Sometimes it good to be alone so you can think, make plans, and assess your life. Isolation, however, is a grotesque greenhouse for all sorts of poisonous thinking.

I stuck around for a couple of hours and then skipped on home. I braced myself for a long wait at Pacific Street for the local ride back home, but I had barely touched down on the platform when the R train came rolling down the tracks as if I had called ahead for a reservation.

On one level, very little happened. I took a train ride to one place, milled about for a while, and then turned around. But there was a lot more going on beneath the surface. I had broken free of the ruthless tentacles of despair, routine, and self-pity to rub elbows with reality.

More of this kind of action is needed. Summer is burning away, and I don’t want to be locked away in February wishing I had gone out more.

Let’s just hope the R train gets the message.

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.