Sunday, October 14, 2018

Temple of Zoom

If I knew I was going on an adventure I would’ve worn a pith helmet.

I met up with a friend on Saturday to check out an old building and wound up doing some serious time traveling.

We were enjoying the annual Open House New York event, where hundreds of the city’s normally off-limits sites and attractions are open to the public.

My aunt suggested checking out the old Dime Savings Bank of Brooklyn on DeKalb Avenue, a building I had spotted a few weeks ago while running an errand downtown.

At the time I snapped a photo of the outside and wondered what the interior looked like. Here was my chance to find out.
So, I contacted my buddy Maria for a little urban exploring.

Now I have to confess that I was a little concerned that I was inviting my friend to view a musty old mausoleum. What a great way to spend a Saturday, right?

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The second we walked into the place I knew we had discovered a real gem.

Designed by Mowbray & Uffinger and built between 1906 and 1908, the Dime Savings bank is a work of art.

The vast building was made to look like Greek temple complete with a rotunda supported by red marble columns that were made from stone imported from ancient Greek quarries. I’ve been in a lot of churches in my life and this place definitely seemed like holy ground.

“I feel like Indiana Jones,” I whispered.

The rotunda was lined with marble benches and several quotes were carved into these benches to give you a lesson as well as a place to rest your caboose. These included little ditties like "Honesty is exact to the penny,” “Sloth is a motor of poverty,” and “From saving comes having.”

Walking around, I imagined men with derbies and canes and women in long dresses with parasols, coming in here to do their business. You could almost feel the souls passing through you.

Everywhere you looked there were fabulous carvings or symbols of some type. The designers were real artists and they wanted to build something that would last.

This neighborhood, like so such much of Brooklyn, is changing rapidly, with old buildings being either renovated or torn down and new structures sprouting up every time you turn around.

The bank is going to survive this onslaught—more or less.

There are plans to build a 73-story mixed-use tower with nearly 500 rental apartments next door to the bank. It will be the tallest building in the borough and the Dime will be used for retail space.

We were having such a good time that Maria checked her phone to see if any other landmarks in the open house were nearby.

“The Wifi here is terrible,” she said, and I had to laugh at the incongruity of mentioning the internet in a such an ancient place like this.

When she finally got a connection, we learned that the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a memorial to more than 11,500 American prisoners of war who died aboard 16 British prison ships during the Revolutionary War, was on the list and just short stroll DeKalb Avenue at Fort Greene Park.

The park is located directly across the street from my alma mater, Brooklyn Technical High School. Now I was a student there back in the Seventies, when the area was a crime-infested hellhole and nobody, I mean nobody, wanted to live there.

I went to Tech for four years but I never even thought about putting one foot in the park back in those dire, dark days.

Saturday was the first time I actually went in there, though I confess it took me a little while to relax because I was half-convince some lingering freak would bum rush us.

But that didn’t happen. The park is beautiful and it was filled with people having fun, not criminals raising hell.

After a brief stop at the Greenlight Bookstore on Fulton Street, we decided to wrap things up.

As we walked down Flatbush building we heard a terrible crash coming across the avenue. We saw a huge cloud of dust and realized one of the crumbling buildings on that block had come tumbling down.

It sounded like a disaster instead of a controlled event, but I did see some kind of construction equipment nearby, so I reckon it was planned. It was scary nonetheless.

But I guess that was the sound of time marching on, rolling over the past and constantly building anew.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Pay What You Wish

Is there an oddsmaker in the house?

I had a chance encounter recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art that I’m still having trouble believing actually happened.

If I had to pick a theme song for this particular Friday night in the Meatpacking District it would unquestionably be OMC’s 1995 hit “How Bizarre” because that’s the only word that fits the situation.

I had gone to the Whitney’s new digs on Gansevoort Street in my half-hearted effort to get the hell away from the DVR and walk amongst human beings.

It was pay-what-you-wish night, which caused a massive but relatively-fast moving line to form outside the museum’s front door. Once I was inside I went to the top floor and worked my way down.

The new Whitney building is a work of art on its own with observation decks on several floors that offer fabulous views of the city. I thought some of the exhibits were a little strange, but I was trying to keep an open mind.

Plus, the Whitney has a number of Edward Hopper paintings that I absolutely love.

After a while I decided it was time to go home and I was riding the elevator down to the lobby when I realized I hadn’t seen the exhibits on the fifth floor.

Oh, screw it, I thought, you’ve seen enough. Go home. The couch and the remote are calling out to you.

It's Making Me Crazy

But I didn’t want to bail. I have a habit of leaving places too soon and going just as the party gets started. I didn’t have any place to be and I wasn’t sure when I’d be coming back, so why not stick around?

I zipped back up to the fifth floor, stepped off the elevator, and locked eyes with my old friend Phil, who I have not seen in years.

It was just so twisted running into him after I had pretty much given up on seeing him ever again.

If Albert Einstein tried to work out the odds of meeting someone in New York in the same museum on the same night his head would explode. I was leaving for God’s sake, and it was just a last-minute decision to go back upstairs.

In many ways this felt like running into an ex-girlfriend, which I’ve also done.

We chatted for a little while and I told him about my accident and that I was looking for work.

There was nothing heavy, as this was neither the time nor the place, and, frankly, I don’t think there will ever be a time and a place for that kind of conversation.

Phil was with some friends, who were preparing to leave, so we parted company and I exited the Whitney—for real this time.

Nothing was resolved, as far as I’m concerned, but I am grateful than I saw him again and I can accept the fact that, for whatever reason, we have gone our separate ways.

But what I’m feeling most of all is shock. I still can’t believe we ran into each other in this city of eight million people.

I have asked God for so much in my lifetime, but even I don’t have the nerve to ask the Almighty to pull an almighty crazy-ass stunt like this. Maybe it’s a case of don’t ask and you shall receive.

As OMC would say, how bizarre.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Empty Seat

We lost such a beautiful voice last week.

I’ve been taking this fabulous class “Five for Five” for the last three years and not only have I learned so much about the craft of writing, but I've also had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people.

One of those people was Kathleen, a lovely woman and an amazing writer, who died last week from cancer.

I’m still having trouble accepting this terrible news.

The class is going to start up again in a few weeks and it’s hard to believe that we won’t see Kathleen again, that she won’t be sitting on the couch in our teacher, Rosemary’s, living room, sharing her writing, her thoughts, and her heart.

Every week I looked forward to hearing her work, much of which was autobiographical. Kathleen was an Irish Catholic like yours truly so I appreciated her stories about our tribe.

She was also so insightful and supportive when commenting on our work. One night I was suffering from a hideous cold and I somehow managed to drag myself to class, follow Rosemary’s prompts, and produce something readable.

I was happy to get through the class without keeling over, but Kathleen made a point of approaching me when we were leaving and complimenting my work.

“You did great work tonight,” she said. “And you were sick!”

Those few words did more to make me feel better than a crateful of Vitamin C. And Kathleen and her husband were kind enough to come to my book signing last year, along with the rest of my classmates.

You Will Know That I Am Gone

As her illness worsened, Kathleen started missing classes. She was due to come to a recent class, but at the last minute we learned that she had taken a bad turn and had to go to the hospital. A short time later we found out she had died.

Several months I posted a link on Facebook to Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition of the Sixties folk song “500 Miles.”

“That’s from my generation!” Kathleen wrote in the comments section.

The song opens up with the line “if you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone,” and those words have taken on a new meaning for me.

People like Kathleen are rare in this life and I feel so blessed for having known her.

There are so many things that I want to tell her and ask her, and it hurts to know that I'll never get the chance.

I saw Kathleen at our group reading in August. Her work was fabulous, as always, and I was just so happy to see her. I had no idea it would be the last time.

I wrote to her in June to tell her how much we all missed her and she told me how the disease “had me on a roller coaster.”

“I want to get back to my real life immediately and that just does not work,” she said. “If I rest now I will have a life to live.”

Kathleen thanked me for writing and added that “at least I’m over the ‘poor me’,” which is a testament to her courage and a lesson for us all.

She ended her message with “Lots of love, Kathleen.”

That’s what I’m feeling now, beneath this terrible sadness, I have lots of love for you, Kathleen, and I always will.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tone at the Top

I picked up my home phone’s receiver on Thursday and listened to something I hadn’t heard in months.

A dial tone.

Ever since my accident in December, I’ve been pretty much living off my cellphone.

I preferred the mobile unit to the hospital’s phone and it was more convenient to use the cell when I got home and had to lumber around the house in leg braces for weeks.

However, my old landline phone was getting ready to call it a day and I asked my sister to get me a new landline phone for Christmas.

The new one is a beauty and comes with a spare receiver that I set up near the TV so I wouldn’t have to dash into my computer room every time someone called me.

There was only one problem: I couldn’t get it to work.

I read the directions over and over, but I couldn’t make sense out of them. I pressed the various buttons, plugged in all wires and the thing was still as dead as Kelsey’s nuts, as my father used to say.

I should mention here that I have no idea who Kelsey was or what caused his unfortunate condition, but the expression just seems to fit this situation.

I repeatedly promised myself that I’d call tech support and get the phone working, but I let the days go by without taking any action.

When I finally called tech support, surprise, surprise, they were experiencing heavier than normal call volume—what exactly is normal call volume?—and I had another excuse not do anything.

Still On The Line

I told people to call my cell until I figured out the situation with the new phone—like it was some great mystery that I had to unravel. Gradually I got accustomed to not having a home phone.

I rationalized that landlines are so 20th Century and most of the calls I get on the damn thing are from telemarketers anyway. Who needs it?

This is a familiar story with me. I don’t know how something works and instead of taking care of the problem, I adjust my life to the inconvenience until it becomes the norm.

And it’s not just with technology. I have an unfortunate habit of putting up barriers where none exist and this sounds like a good habit to break.

Every time I walked into my computer room I could feel the new phone staring at me with zombie eyes.

Finally, I’d had enough. I was going to call tech support, heavier than normal call volume be damned, and get my phone working.

I got connected with a young woman who ran me through a series of questions, which quickly determined that I was using a wire from my old phone and plugging it into the wrong socket.

I corrected these two errors, picked up the receiver, and nearly burst into tears when I heard that lovely dial tone singing back to me. It was just a simple adjustment, but to me it was like day Alexander Graham Bell hollered “Watson, I need you!”

Okay, so I’ll giving myself a split grade on this one. I’m disappointed that I let this situation go on for so long, but I’m happy that I finally took care of it.

Now I have to set up the voice mail and if I get any messages from Kelsey I’m not calling him back.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Counting all the Stars

I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan, but not this past weekend.

In fact, I had a series of fabulous encounters that had me absolutely reeling with joy.

It started on Friday when I was bouncing out of the Barnes & Noble at Union Square and spotted a gaggle of smartphones raised high in the air.

The store routinely hosts authors of every sort and I reckoned these people were jockeying to get a photo of some cable news blowhard or the latest celebrity chef, whose overpriced cook book would probably end up in the dollar bin by Thanksgiving.

Oh, get a load of these star-struck twits, I mentally sneered. They’re so pathetic.

I was due to meet a friend for lunch on 28th Street and the only reason I was in the store in the first place was to use the facilities, as the old kidneys ain’t what they used to be.

But I figured, what the hell? Let me at least find out which D-lister I’m snubbing.

“Say,” I asked a nearby employee. “What’s all the excitement about?”

“That’s Tony Bennett,” he said.

What? You mean Tony Bennett—as in “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Stranger in Paradise,” “Once Upon A Time” and God knows how many incredible hits?

You mean Tony Bennett, the man, the legend, the freaking deity?

Well, yes, actually. He was making an appearance to promote his latest album with Diana Krall and he was no more than 10 feet away from me.

I quickly whipped out my smartphone and joined the small crowd of intelligent, sophisticated people—how dare you call them twits?—and began clicking like a Western Union telegraph operator on Mother’s Day.

“I’m gonna die,” I wailed, “I’m gonna die!”

Juliet is the Sun

I didn’t die, but I came awfully close to keeling over. This man is an incredible 92 years old and he had this aura around him that you could almost touch.

As I was shooting my brains out, the beloved singer stepped up and hugged some lucky woman.

“Hey,” I whispered, “I need a hug from Tony Bennett, too!”

I hung around as long as I could before rolling uptown to meet my friend for lunch. But my star-gazing had only begun.

On Saturday my sister and I went into town again to attend the Irish Repertory Theatre’s annual block party. We’ve seen many of this company's productions and the block party is always fun.

Once again, I made a pitstop at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square. (Gosh, maybe someday I’ll actually buy something there.)

The place was celebrity-free on this day, which is good because I was perilously close to giving new meaning to the word “Riverdance.”

We were enjoying the music and speeches at the Irish Rep when we happened to look up and saw Bill Irwin, famed actor, clown, and comedian, whose lengthy resume includes appearing in the video for “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin.

Mr. Irwin will be doing a show at the Irish Rep called “Exploring the Works of Samuel Beckett,” and he performed a selection from that program.

“This is your second celebrity sighting,” my sister said.

Yes, but little did we know that we had one more to go.

This time, though, we saw a celebrity in the making in the form of Juliet, a beautiful six-year-girl who swept us off our collective feet with her fabulous dancing.

I thought I had left my heart in Barnes & Noble, but Juliet scooped it right up like a loose football and ran straight for the end zone.

Her dancing was flawless. She kept time with the music, created her own steps, and did not show the slightest bit of shyness. When one of the singers struck up a slow, bluesy number, Juliet effortlessly shifted to her own interpretive moves.

She appeared to be a natural performer. Her folks weren’t pushing her to entertain people, she wasn’t desperate for attention and I’m convinced she would have danced with the same exuberance if she’d been alone in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

My sister and I approached Juliet and her parents to let them know just how much we enjoyed her impromptu performance. And I’m going to keep an eye out for this kid because I’m sure we’re going to hear from her again.

I’ve decided I’m going to take this excellent weekend as a good omen. There’s no logic behind this, but I’m in transition right now and I need all the good news I can get.

I’m going to be positive, creative, and productive and I’m going to go forward and look all the good things in life.

As long as there’s a bathroom nearby, I’ll be fine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Where There is Darkness...

We need to be more like Kelsie.

Kelsie is a comfort dog I had the great fortune of meeting today during a 9/11 memorial service at St. Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Fulton Street.

Her handler, a very nice woman from the Tri-State Canine Response Team, told me that she and her canine colleagues respond to all kinds of emergencies, including the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.

And they were at Ground Zero today, where they most definitely needed, even after all this time.

It’s been 17 years since I stood outside the Brook Brothers store across the street from the World Trade Center and watched smoke pouring out of the North Tower; 17 years since the second plane slammed into the South Tower moments later and we all ran, while the towers and the world as we knew it came crashing to the ground.

I think about the people I met on that day, like the elderly lady I helped to her feet after she collapsed in shock when the attack began.

I think about the Japanese businessman who spoke virtually no English and who was so stunned by what he had seen that I had to lead him around by the hand like a child.

I’m thinking about three young men who came into the basement of a nursing home on Water Street where I and many others had gone to escape the massive clouds of debris from the fallen towers that rolled through the streets—clouds that are still killing people to this very day.

One of the young men had been blinded by the dust and he had a hand on his friends’ shoulder, while holding his shirt over his damaged eyes. Where are those three companions today?

It is in Giving that We Receive

My father marked his 80th birthday on that terrible day. He left this world in 2007 but I’m thinking more and more about him lately and I’m happy to say that the good memories are outnumbering the bad ones.

I haven’t been in Manhattan on 9/11 for a few years now and while I can’t say it felt good to back, it did feel right and proper that I returned to this location instead of watching the memorial ceremony on television.

I got in the city early to take my boxing class and I took a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood while it was still dark and relatively free of people.

I found myself getting angrier and angrier as I thought about how we had learned nothing from the September 11 attacks.

I don’t like saying that, but when you look at how we have become so divided, so hateful toward one another since that day, it’s pretty hard to find any beams of light in all the darkness.

After class, I went back to the Brooks Brothers store to pray and give thanks and then I headed over to St. Paul’s for the ceremony.

We recited the Prayer of Saint Francis, where we asked the Lord to make us instruments of His peace, and then the reverend rang the Bell of Hope, a gift from London, at 8:46AM to mark the moment the first plane struck.

I consider the Prayer of St. Francis an oath, a sacred promise to God that we will put aside hatred and respond with love. And meeting Kelsie reinforced that belief.

I started getting teary-eyed while patting Kelsie’s head as she radiated a kind of goodness that puts humanity to shame.

We have to be more like Kelsie and the other comfort dogs, who give us so much and ask for so little in return. Maybe if we behaved more like them, we’d be less inclined to start wars, imprison children, and crash airplanes into office buildings.

Maybe these dogs should be teaching us old humans some new tricks.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Shift Change

Shift, shift, shift!

I went back to boxing class last week for the first time since my accident in December and it was special kind of magic.

I was thrilled to see Abby, my instructor and all my friends in the class, whom I haven’t seen in 9 months.

But it also felt weird being back in the gym after such a long absence, like I was an imposter or a trespasser.

Of course, the original prognosis said I’d be out of commission for 18 months, so I’m certainly grateful for that. And if I had fallen on my head, I wouldn’t be here at all.

I had gotten used to sleeping later on Tuesdays and Thursdays, instead of getting up before sunrise and slogging into the city.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to roll out of bed that early or that I’d keel over halfway through the warmup or that I’d reinjure myself and wind up flat on my back again.

For the last few months I’d been going for long walks in my neighborhood, lifting weights, hitting the bag at the gym and working out on the Stairmaster.

I was also going to weekly physical therapy sessions at NYU Langone’s facility on Shore Road. I was working with an excellent trainer and when we had our last session at the end of August I knew it was time to get back to boxing.

It was rough. After all that time off, my cardio had just about disappeared and this became excruciatingly apparent during my one-on-one mitt session with Abby.

Better, stronger, faster

I dreaded this portion of the class because I feel like everyone in the room is watching me.

The reality is that people are far too busy working out and worrying about their own time with Abby to give a rat’s ass about me, but I still felt like I was in the spotlight.

Of course, this being Abby, he had to break my chops while putting me through all kinds of misery.

“We can rebuild him,” he said, mimicking the opening of The Six Million Dollar Man. "It’s Bionic Rob…I’m gonna call you Steve Austin.”

I could tell he was taking it easy on me, but even so, he used the time wisely, forcing me to work on my boxing technique and getting the basics down so that I have them branded into my DNA.

“Extend your arm,” he said during the round. “Put your shoulder into it. Shift your weight—shift, shift, shift!”

Shifting was pretty hard, as my battered knees are still kind of creaky. But I really appreciated his insights. Abby is a former amateur champion, and the nephew of a one-time light-heavyweight world champion, so he definitely knows what he’s talking about.

And “shift” seems to be the operative word in my life right now. My professional life is currently in flux, people and places that have been a part of my life for years have suddenly disappeared.

It’s a scary time, but it’s also exciting. I’m looking to shake up my life—in a positive way, of course. Maybe these sudden shifts are God’s way of telling me to break out the routine and go confidently in the direction of my dreams, as Henry David Thoreau advised.

Steve Austin took some nasty hits and came back to be a hero. Bionic Rob is going to do the same.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Out of Wok

Now I’ll have to get my wonton soup someplace else.

My local Chinese restaurant, the Hot Wok, went out of business last week and yet I still have this urge to swing by and pick up an order.

The Hot Wok was my go-to place on many a Friday night, when I gave into the call of the comfort zone, got a vat on wonton soup and a mound of fortune cookies, before scurrying on home to watch the latest offering from Netflix. (Exciting life I lead, no?)

The Hot Wok is—was—located at 69th Street off Narrows Avenue, the middle store in a trio of businesses that I like to call “Bachelor’s Row,” starting with the pizzeria on the corner, the Wok, and then the deli, all lined up and waiting for the man who doesn’t feel like cooking.

I had noticed their gate was down and I prayed that they were just on vacation, but when I called them, I got the “number is no longer in service” message. A few days ago, one of the customers at the deli confirmed the awful truth: the Hot Wok was no more.

I’m still bummed about this, and not about just the food. The people were great and they were very nice to me. After my accident the owner—I’m sorry I never got her name—greeted me so warmly when I started walking around the neighborhood again.

And her daughter Vicky liked to break my chops whenever I came in. One night she put me through a spirited version of the why game, where she greeted all my responses to her questions with a “why?”

“What is your name?” she began.


“Why is your name Rob?”

“My parents liked the name.”

“Why did your parents like the name?”

That went on for 10 solid minutes of hilarious torture. By the time I got my order, Vicky was doubled over laughing at her own schtick, while I grabbed my soup and ran like hell.

Too Damn High

Vicky would often stick her tongue at me when I walked by, but I’d just take out my phone to get her picture and she’d quickly cease and desist.

And now the whole family is gone as if they never existed. They made no announcement and left no forwarding address.

The place served good food and it was always hopping on a Friday night. The phone would ring nonstop and the owner would take my order while handling the customer on the line.

I suspect the Hot Wok was done in by high rents, an on-going nightmare in New York that’s driving small business out of existence and filling this town with scores of empty storefronts.

Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio suggested slapping blood-sucking landlords with a vacancy tax if they keep their stores empty in hopes of scoring top dollar rents.

If something isn’t done, the city will lose its mom and pop stores and funky little businesses and all we’ll have left will be banks, chain stores, and fast food joints.

And speaking of rents, my great blogging buddy Ron had to pull the plug on his dream to move back to New York from Philadelphia because he can’t afford to live here.

I’m sure there are plenty of people scrubbing their plans to move here while long-tine residents are moving to places with cheaper rents.

The thing is we need local businesses like the Hot Wok and we need people like Ron to give this city character and color. We don’t need any more hedge fund managers, real estate tycoons, or Russian oligarchs buying up every inch of available space in New York.

And adding to all this confusion is the fact that my own situation is up in the air now and I’m looking a new direction. The Summer of 2018 is certainly ending on harsh note.

Last night I went to the Panda on Third Avenue to get an order of wonton soup. The people are very nice and the soup isn’t bad, but it’s a longer walk from my home and there’s no Vicky to tease me.

I’m just hoping these people can stay in business.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Peace with Goodwill

I wonder what Klaatu would think of us now.

I pulled up a beach chair in my local park Friday night and treated myself to a screening of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

I’d made certain earlier in the day that the folks at the Narrows Botanical Gardens were screening the 1951 original starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and not the 2008 atrocity with Keanu Reeves.

This was the last night of the summer movie festival and I was feeling kind of low. I hate winter with a passion and in my mind once we clear Labor Day, it’s a screaming hell-plunge into freezing days, 16-hour nights, and no outdoor anything.

So, this seemed like a fine way to start the summer send-off: a beautiful night, a great film, and a five-minute walk home.

Of course, you have to deal with traffic noise, winds ruffling the movie screen, and noisy kids running around and shrieking at each other, but the price was right, as my father used to say, meaning it was free.

Based on a short story “Farewell to the Master,” by Harry Bates, The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the tale of Klaatu, an alien who visits earth from another world on a mission of peace and is shot by panicky soldiers shortly after he steps out of his flying saucer.

Klaatu has come a long way to warn humanity to clean up its psychotic act or face annihilation. He’s accompanied by Gort, a monstrous robot that is capable of nuking entire planets. And Gort comes awfully close to wiping out the earth until Patricia Neal issues the famous command Klaatu barada nikto!

“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason,” Klaatu states at one point.

The Decision Rests with You

Substituting fear for reason? I can only imagine what Klaatu would think if he could see the current political situation. The world was a pretty crazy place in 1951, no doubt, but since then we have amped up fear dramatically while flushing reason straight down the crapper.

“I'm impatient with stupidity,” he declares.

Oy…we’re in worse shape than I thought.

The film has numerous messiah references. Our hero uses the alias Carpenter; he is killed and resurrected, and eventually ascends into the sky.

Interestingly, The Day the Earth Stood still came out in the same year as another one of my science fiction favorites, The Thing from Another World, which views aliens as bloodthirsty invaders to be destroyed, not as superior beings.

Before he leaves Klaatu advises humans to lay down its sword and shield.

“For our policemen, we created a race of robots,” he says. “Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us.”

Initially I thought it was bizarre that people would hand law enforcement duties over to machines, but then you look around and see so many people with their noses stuck in a smart phone.

Autonomous vehicles will be driving on our roads sooner than later and sex robots are apparently a thing. How long before we entrust robots with police work as well?

It sounds creepy, but it’s hard to believe that machines could do a worse job of maintaining order than we have. Whatever we do, we’d better get on it soon before Gort makes a return engagement.

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.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

In the Crosshairs

Now we can add five more names to the list.

Last week’s mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis continues the apparently endless stream of gun violence that has gripped this terribly misguided nation.

I’ve worked at small newspapers, so this latest attack is particularly disturbing.

I think of the newsrooms in Pennsylvania and Connecticut where I used to ply my trade and see how easily it would’ve been for some gun-toting lunatic to walk in and start shooting.

Yes, the shooter had a personal beef with the newspaper, but we can’t ignore the fact that Trump—I refuse to call him president—has declared the press “the enemy of the people,” that he has repeatedly labeled any unflattering story as “fake news” and encouraged the crowds at his vanity hoedowns to jeer at reporters.

I’ve covered many seminars about corruption in the business world and one phrase that I’ve heard repeatedly was “tone at the top”—meaning how the behavior of a company's leaders can have a major influence on the actions of the rest of the staff.

If your C-suite people are being honest, your employees are likely to follow suit because of the example that management has set. Likewise, if the top executives are flipping the bird at the very notion of integrity, well, why should the underlings behave any differently?

The tone at the top of this country is vile.

We have a lying, thieving, and possibly traitorous megalomaniac occupying the White House, who surrounds himself with a mob of grifters and bootlickers.

We have Border Patrol officers taking children away from their parents, while that smirking Aryan chimp Jeff Sessions cites scripture to justify it—the very same passage that was used by Colonial Americans loyal to the Crown and slave owners who wanted to hold human beings in chains.

Conceived in Liberty

And we have an administration and congress hellbent on making the rich richer and corporations unaccountable.

I’ll never understand how middle class white people could ever sign off on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Do you seriously think these money-grubbers are going to share anything with you? They got rich by inheriting their millions from their daddies and keeping that money in the family.

The shake-up at the Supreme Court is the latest blow to the country I love. Trump will undoubtedly nominate some free market ideologue who will rubberstamp all the Republican talking points and make them the law of the land.

I keep thinking of the sequence in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey sees what his world would be like if he had never been born.

This includes learning that his beloved hometown of Bedford Falls has been turned into a vice-ridden rat’s nest called “Pottersville” after the diseased old man who owns just about everything.

George realizes his value and sees his town restored. But that’s only a movie.

Life is a little more complicated. Right now, this country is well on its way to becoming Trumpville as a diseased old man and his cronies do everything they can to make life easier for themselves and their rich buddies.

With each terrible incident, I hear people say “we’re better than this” but that’s not slowing down our moral decay. This well-funded minority is turning this country into an angry tribe of self-centered cretins who will believe anything as long it conforms to their own twisted world view.

Happy Fourth of July.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Dog Show

I’ve seen a few dogs in the theater over the years, but the one I spotted recently really stands out.

This was the real thing--as in the four-legged kind--a little lap dog I had the pleasure of meeting on my birthday last month while attending a performance of Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

This little fellow—I think he was a fellow—was perched on the lap of a woman sitting in the audience and I spotted them as I was returning to my seat during intermission.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always feel comfortable talking to total strangers in the theater.

Perhaps it’s because of the live actors on the stage or the fact that we all share a love for this singular art form, but, whatever the reason, I can chat up people I’ve never met before in a way that I wouldn’t even think of doing in a multiplex.

So, when I saw this lady and her dog, I just had to stop and talk.

“Is that a comfort dog?” I asked.

“No,” the lady said in a distinct southern accent. “I’m allergic to kiwi and he reacts in case it’s in my food.”

The poor lady, who was named Mary, told me that she almost died twice when her throat closed up due to a reaction to kiwi. Clearly that little doggie has a big job.

“And what part of Brooklyn are you from?” I asked, unable to fight my smart-ass instincts.

Mary laughed and told me that she was a retired school teacher from Georgia who had decided to stop whistling Dixie, pull up stakes, and relocate to New York City.

Yes, this loony bin that so many retirees can’t wait to flee is this lady’s retirement destination—a kind concrete Boca Raton.

Quitting Time

“I don’t know too many people who actually retire to New York,” I said.

“If I had retired to southern Georgia like so many of other people,” Mary said, “my biggest decision would be where I’d be having dinner tonight. Here, there’s so much to do and so many things to see.”

She was right about that and I think Mary appreciated New York in a way that a lot of Big Apple natives don’t—including, at times, yours truly.

I’m slowly getting out into the world after my fall in December, but prior to that I know I spent far too many weekends sitting in front of the TV watching old movies.

The only good thing about the accident, if there is such a thing, was that it happened during the winter, so I didn’t feel like I was missing much. But now I’m sticking around the house even though the weather was warm.

There have been a few blips here and there. I went to the WWOW show a few weeks ago to enjoy the actors performing old timey radio programs. I hadn’t gone to one of these events in a while, and this performance was the last one of the season, so I’m glad I went.

Last weekend my sister and I went to a silent disco event on the 69th Street pier, which is a five-minute walk from my house.

I’ve been meaning to attend one of these things—where you get the music through headphones rather than through booming speakers—so this was a good chance to scratch it off my list.

It was kind of weird watching people get down in total silence and the headphones became uncomfortable after a while, but I did try it. The next day we all went the Public Theater to see Cypress Avenue, a very good, but very disturbing play.

And today I went to a friend’s birthday party in Park Slope and had way too much wine.

I gave Mary my card before going back my seat and told her that she was welcome to join me and my family on our theater excursions.

I haven’t heard for her, but I’m glad I made the offer and I’m very grateful that I met her.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Crossed Wires

Like all kids, I hated going to the doctor.

I feared being poked with needles, dreaded having that tongue depressor thing jammed down my throat, and absolutely hated wasting so much time in the waiting room when I could be outside raising all kinds of hell.

Now there was this one day fine spring day when I had to go the doctor to get a booster shot.

Today of course I know full well the importance of checkups, but back then I felt like I was walking the last mile.

My dad had been doing some home repairs that morning and he sent me around the corner to Windsor Lock, the neighborhood hardware store—back when we had neighborhood hardware stores—to get several items including lightbulbs and two short pieces of wire.

Off I went, relying on nothing but my memory of what my father had told me to complete the order. When I returned a short time later, I handed the bag over to my father—and he promptly went nuts.

He was so happy and so proud of me for getting every single thing he wanted without the benefit of a shopping list.

“You even got the two pieces of wire!” he said in cheerful disbelief.

Well, that’s it, I reasoned, they can’t possibly take me to the doctor now. I’ve done such a good job, made my father so happy. It’s time to go out and play.

But a short time later my dad was getting out the car keys and telling me it was time to go see Dr. Abrahamson.

What the hell? I just pulled off the retail miracle of the century, you can’t possibly drag me to that needle-wielding psychopath now. I earned a pass on pain.

In my childish mind I had decided that the doctor’s visit was punishment, so by doing a good job for my dad, I was automatically off the hook—quid pro no doctor. Clearly, however, I had a lot to learn about logic and how a job well done does not excuse you from taking care of your health.

I used to tell that story a lot and I’d always end up by describing how disappointed and betrayed I felt when parents hauled me off to the doctor.

Roll Up Your Sleeve

But now on Father’s Day I want to change the focus a little on this tale and concentrate on how happy I had made my dad that morning.

This didn’t happen too often, to be honest, or at least not as much as I would’ve liked. We butted heads a lot during his lifetime and I keep thinking I could’ve done more to make things better between us.

My father fought in World War II and I am only now appreciating how much that terrible experience must have affected him.

He was once trapped in a foxhole for days during an artillery attack and wound getting frostbite in both feet so badly that when help finally did arrive, he had to be carried away by a stretcher.

One of his buddies was a guide in Montana, and he, my dad, and two other soldiers had planned to go on a hunting trip together when they got back to the States—only the other guys were all killed in action and my father was the only one who came home.

How can anyone possibly walk away unscathed from something like that?

I get angry when people talk so casually about going to war, the ones who say “we” when they obviously mean somebody else has to do the fighting.

My father didn’t have any bone spurs, he didn’t have any “other priorities” and he sure as fuck didn’t prance around on an aircraft carrier crowing “mission accomplished.” No, he just fought for his country.

It’s a waste of time and energy, but I wonder sometimes what kind of man my father would’ve been if he hadn’t gone to war, if he hadn’t witnessed all the brutality.

He’s been gone with 11 years now, so we’ll never know. I guess the best I can do is recall the happy times.

The pain from the booster shot has long since faded, but I’ll never forget that smile I put on my father’s face when I brought home those two pieces of wire.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Though Your Heart is Aching

When it’s someone close to you, it’s always too soon.

I was in grammar school when I had my first dental appointment with Dr. Ronald Cohen.

I was terrified, convinced that I was going to suffer unspeakable torment as this stranger sadistically yanked all of the teeth out of my head.

When I completed all the various forms, I nervously handed them over to Mabel, Dr. Cohen’s nurse, and briefly thought about running out the door.

This was in early May and when Mable checked my birth date, she gave me a lovely smile.

“You’ve got a birthday coming up,” she said.

I was confused. The torturer’s assistant was being nice to me? Isn’t she supposed to laugh like a lunatic and shove me into the arms of the drill-wielding psycho?

It turns out that I may have overreacted a little bit. Mabel was a wonderful woman and when Dr. Cohen came out to greet me, I found him to be a kind, gentle man who only wanted to keep me healthy.

And he would be my family’s dentist for nearly 50 years.

Mabel died several years ago and then last week my sister told me that we lost Dr. Cohen, too. I turned 61 last month so obviously Dr. Cohen was not a young man, but he always seemed fit and healthy and he certainly wore his age well.

His widow told my sister that Dr. Cohen, who suffered from diabetes, was working up until the day before he died.

I was close to tears when I heard the news and I still can’t believe he’s gone. This is the end of an era as yet another person leaves our lives. I know that I’m at the stage of life where I’m constantly saying goodbye to family and friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

You Must Keep on Trying

I went through high school, college, and adulthood and for nearly every one of those years I made my annual visit to Dr. Cohen.

He was more than just a rinse-and-spit guy. He was committed to educating his patients about the importance of oral hygiene. Often during examinations, he would hand me a mirror and take me on a guided tour of my own chompers.

“He acts like they’re his teeth,” I once jokingly complained, “and you’re just borrowing them.”

He was constantly looking to improve himself, staying up to date on the latest developments and doing research in his spare time.

As I moved into adulthood, Dr. Cohen and I would talk about things beyond brushing after every meal. He once told me about how his grandfather back in Russia had been forced to join the army.

“They just grabbed him off the street and threw him into a car,” Dr. Cohen said. “His family had no idea what happened to him for six months.”

And yet despite that abrupt introduction to army life, the elder Cohen went on to be an exemplary soldier and actually considered making the military his career, but since he was Jewish he knew he would never become an officer, so he mustered out.

After I graduated from college, I considered going to Japan to teach English. When I mentioned this to Dr. Cohen about this, he told me about how he had climbed Mt. Fuji during a leave from his military service in Korea.

I didn’t get the job, but Dr. Cohen had seen to it that all my dental work had been taken care of just in case I had to leave the country.

I know we all have to leave this life eventually, but I guess I thought that Dr. Cohen would always be there for us. And while I’ll have to find a new dentist now, I can’t imagine anybody else putting me at my ease the way Dr. Cohen did.

I’m looking back at that terrified grade schooler I once was, and I have to say that in all those years Dr. Cohen never caused me any pain.

Until now.